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Wolf's Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan
Review by Jon Guenther
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765337740
Date: 28 June 2016 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: C. Christian's Website / M.G. Buchanan's Facebook / Show Official Info /

It's hard to come down on whether you can call Wolf's Empire: Gladiator more fantasy or science fiction. In any case, that's not bad news because that fact just made the concept in this novel all the more original for me.

This first book (I can only assume based on what I've read this will ultimately be a series) is really a sprawling space opera written in a style that reminded me of Herbert's Dune series. It's the story of Accala Viridius, daughter of a high-ranking nobleman who trains to fight for her house and her honor. And to cover the pain of the tragic loss of family members. If that isn't enough, Christian and Buchanan broaden the story palette by founding this rebel-quest-for-adventure tale in a setting where the Roman Empire has become an interstellar power embroiled in war between its galaxy-spanning houses, all led by an Emperor who has decided the warring entities should settle their battles in gladiatorial combat.

Make no mistake, there's a lot going on in this book. Fortunately, the plot and characters are rich enough to carry us for five hundred pages, although I found the insertion of the Hyperboreans (a barbarian alien race) a little jarring of a plot-line, and whether they've served their full story purpose or an inkling of more to come wasn't really clear to me. It's possible I just didn't get it but their contribution to the story seemed hazy. I also felt there were times the narrative slowed a bit too much with unnecessary info dumps. In contrast much of the exposition had rich descriptions useful to understanding this happily complex and bizarre world of an empire at war.

In the end analysis there are bits that seemed contrived and moments that could have been chopped with no loss. Mostly, though, Wolf's Empire: Gladiator was really a pretty great read, and I can honestly say I look forward to seeing where Christian and Buchanan take us from here. I foresee most readers will have an equally positive response.

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