Gladiator meets Game of Thrones: a royal woman becomes a skilled warrior to destroy her murderous cousin, avenge her family, and save her kingdom in this first entry in a dazzling fantasy epic from the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Elemental Assassin series—an enthralling tale that combines magic, murder, intrigue, adventure, and a hint of romance.
In a realm where one’s magical power determines one’s worth, Lady Everleigh’s lack of obvious ability relegates her to the shadows of the royal court of Bellona, a kingdom steeped in gladiator tradition. Seventeenth in line for the throne, Evie is nothing more than a ceremonial fixture, overlooked and mostly forgotten.
But dark forces are at work inside the palace. When her cousin Vasilia, the crown princess, assassinates her mother the queen and takes the throne by force, Evie is also attacked, along with the rest of the royal family. Luckily for Evie, her secret immunity to magic helps her escape the massacre.
Forced into hiding to survive, she falls in with a gladiator troupe. Though they use their talents to entertain and amuse the masses, the gladiators are actually highly trained warriors skilled in the art of war, especially Lucas Sullivan, a powerful magier with secrets of his own. Uncertain of her future—or if she even has one—Evie begins training with the troupe until she can decide her next move.
But as the bloodthirsty Vasilia exerts her power, pushing Bellona to the brink of war, Evie’s fate becomes clear: she must become a fearsome gladiator herself . . . and kill the queen.
Fan-freaking-tastic! I would have finished this in one day if I didn’t have to do grown up stuff after I started reading. Great characters, awesome world building. Jennifer Estep got me to care about gladiators when fighting is not my thing at all—no interest in WWE, MMA, UFC, etc. But I had a running montage in my head of the fight sequences while Evie, the main protagonist, and the troupe are training and during the gladiator shows (“Are you not entertained?!” Came to my mind several times). All the best elements of action movies—this book was like a summer blockbuster movie (think of Gladiator, the Thor: Ragnarok Thor versus Hulk battle) to me, only in book form. Shifters and magic abound in this world on top of traveling gladiator troupes putting on shows for the masses. If all this sounds appealing to you, this is the book for you.
Evie, or Everleigh, is the main character. She’s in her mid-late 20s (not a teenager—yay!), a member of the royal family but umpteenth in line for the throne, and trying to just get by. She’s made a bit of a family for herself after coming to the castle as an orphan even though she’s afraid someone could use it against her (another favorite part of this book for me—found family plays an important role both as Evie is with the royal family and then in the gladiator troupe). She has a secret magical ability that saves her life at a critical time, allowing her to escape death, and eventually train to come back to fight her evil relative for the throne. I appreciate her growth in the story—going from a goal of survival to being able to fight for and defend herself then ultimately fighting to save others.
Evie is just one of many women who feature in this story. I love that—a fantasy where women are in power, women are the focus, women are competent. The ruler of the kingdom is a woman, the villains are women, the boss/owner of the gladiator troupe Evie joins is a woman, champion GLADIATORS are women and there’s not nasty misogyny or sexism—thank you, Jennifer Estep!
There’s not much romance in this book for Evie although there’s potential (that hopefully becomes reality somehow in future books in the series). Sullivan, the potential love interest, is an interesting character as well with a lot more to unpack as far as his family background, how he hooked up with Serilda and The Black Swan crew, where he learned to fight (so much!). I also want to know so much more about Serilda, her history with the royal guard, how she formed The Black Swan gladiator troupe, what’s the story with her and Cho, and on and on. I also want more about Paloma (the champion gladiator who’s also an ogre) and Lady Xenia (an ogre noble).
This book is the first in a new series by Jennifer Estep. I was late to her Elemental Assassin series and am just now making my way through it. This book is definitely different from that series. It’s very much fantasy, not urban fantasy, although magic exists in both worlds but with differences. This book has a satisfying ending and yet left plenty to work through in subsequent books—impending war (or can it be averted?), court politics, and potential romance! Awesome characters including fierce, capable women, a great, new magical world, and lovely storytelling! Give me more!
You can buy a copy here.