Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Rediscovered review of LIBERTY by Gladiatrix author Russell Whitfield -- yes, it's that good. #MFRWOrg

You could file this post under the heading of "throwback," since it's a reblog of a review that was written almost ten years ago. I had forgotten just how fantastic this review was—and subsequent events have put an even more poignant spin on it for me.

The review's author, I found out recently, had been working on his own female-gladiator novel when he decided to read and review the HQN Books edition of Liberty in 2006. The content of his web site gladiatrix.info had led me to believe at the time that he held no more than an academic interest in the subject of women arena fighters in ancient Rome, and for good reason. The publication of his novel Gladiatrix was yet two years off; I rather suspect that he hadn't even received a contract offer for it yet, or else I'm sure that announcement would have been posted on the day I read his review.

Fast-forward an octet of years to the fall of 2014.

While preparing to publish the revised edition of Liberty, one of the first things I did was research covers for similar novels set in ancient Rome. My favorite cover of the lot is that of Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield. (And, yes, it's on my TBR pile!)

It had been so long since I had read Whitfield's Liberty review, and it hadn't been cross-posted to sites like Amazon and Goodreads, that I didn't connect the two at first. I just loved the cover of Gladiatrix, and shared it with my cover designer as inspiration for the Liberty reboot.

In the course of creating Liberty advertising materials this week for distribution at upcoming appearances, my publicist pulled a quote from Whitfield's review, which sent me back to gladiatrix.info to read the full text.

There, for the first time, I saw the connection with his novel Gladiatrix.

The fact that Whitfield had written such a terrific review of a work that could be perceived as competition with his as-yet unpublished novel makes me all the more appreciative of his words about Liberty today.

I present them here, in their British-idiom entirety, for your consideration:

"Liberty" by Kimberly Iverson is published by HQN—"we are romance." I'll admit to being slightly sceptical about this, expecting nothing more than a Mills and Boon exercise with standard romance characters dressed in Roman cloth—more costume drama than historical adventure. Not that there's anything wrong with Romance Historicals, they're just not my cup of tea.

Or at least, they weren't until I read "Liberty." Iverson, I think, has transcended HQN's genre, producing a pacey, action-packed work of epic proportions (it weighs in at hefty 485 pages, and is worth every penny of the price tag). I love the premise—Iverson, inspired by the Dover Street Woman findings, decided that the gladiatrix deserved a back story, and provides it here in satisfying spades.

Anyone who knows their history will realise that "Liberty" is painstakingly researched; and anyone who doesn't won't need to—a testament of Iverson's skill as a writer. There's more than enough in there to keep visitors to this website happy—the action scenes don't hold back—they're bloody, brutal and realistic as they should be, but never gratuitous. Conversely, the love story between Rhyddes and Aquila is never cloying or overdone; it's a realistic take on love across the social divide.

One of "Liberty's" greatest strengths is the array of rich and fully-realised supporting characters; in many books it's easy to focus on the main protagonists and forget about the rest, but Iverson does not allow that. Indeed, the villain of her piece is a sympathetic character in the end. Certainly, his actions and his goals are totally understandable; you or I would do the same thing in his place, and this raises him far above the level of moustache-twirling bad-guy. 

Additionally, I think that the cover-blurb does one of the characters (Messiena) a bit of disservice. She is far from a simpering Roman noble woman, and indeed, she was one of my favourite characters. The same can be said of Aquila's mother —understanding, yes—simpering, not in the least.

If I had one criticism of "Liberty," it would be the employment of archaic dialogue when the scenes are from Rhyddes' point of view. Certainly, I can see the literary device employed here, and this style does differentiate Celt from Roman. It's a personal choice, I guess—"mayhap" and "'twas" and other such expressions aren't necessary in what is such a great book—at least in my view. However, that said, its really minor point didn't detract from the enjoyment of the work.

Iverson's biographical notes say that "Liberty" is the first of what she hopes to be many offerings to the romance community. I suspect this tag has more to do with HQN than Iverson herself. "Liberty" is far more than a romance novel, and to brand it as one limits its appeal. It is a fine piece of fiction that manages to successfully cross over two genres in a satisfactory manner. A well-researched novel that deserves a place on any fan of the historical genre's shelf, I would advise anyone that visits this website to purchase a copy—you will not be disappointed!

*** End of review ***

For the record, I wasn't best pleased with the adjective "simpering" either, so for the new synopsis I substituted "adoring," which describes Messiena's feelings for Aquila a lot more accurately. For the full text of the new synopsis and other information about the second edition of Liberty, please click its tab at the top of my blog!

Whitfield's web site does not accommodate the posting of comments; I didn't have the opportunity back then to thank him publicly for such an in-depth and wonderful review, so I shall remedy this forthwith:

Thank you very much, Russell Whitfield, 
and I wish you every success for all of your works!

All this month, you are invited to...
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