Former gladiator Saevius is certain Fortune’s smiling on him when a Pompeiian politician buys him to be his bodyguard. That is until his new master, Laurea Calvus, orders Saevius to discover the gladiator with whom his wife is having a sordid affair. In order to do that, Saevius must return to the arena, training alongside the very men on whom he’s spying. Worse, he’s now under the command of Drusus, a notoriously cruel—and yet strangely intriguing—lanista.
But Saevius’s ruse is the least of his worries. There’s more to the affair than a wife humiliating her prominent husband, and now Saevius is part of a dangerous game between dangerous men. He isn’t the only gladiator out to expose the Lady Verina’s transgressions, and her husband wants more than just the guilty man’s name.
When Saevius learns the truth about the affair, he’s left with no choice but to betray a master: one he’s come to fear, one he’s come to respect, and either of whom could have him killed without repercussion.
For the first time in his life, the most dangerous place for this gladiator isn’t the arena.
This novel has been previously published under the pseudonym L.A. Witt, and has been lightly revised.
The Left Hand of Calvus is an extremely well-written and tightly woven story of a gladiator involved in “a dangerous game between dangerous men” against his will. Authored by Ann Gallagher, also known as L.A. Witt, it oozes USTs without the MC, Saevius, fully understanding what was happening and with nary a sex scene in sight. People might complain about the lack of steam but I am the type who can happily live off USTs alone so this novel is totally my jam.
And it’s not just tension of the sexual kind that is tight. There is constant threat to life and limb and Saevius was perpetually walking on razor’s edge. As a gladiator and essentially a slave, he had no choice but do anything his masters tell him to do. He was told to spy on his fellow gladiators both by Calvus and Drusus, albeit for different reasons. A slight misstep could get him killed by either masters and/or his fellow gladiators and he had to survive on fighting skills and wits. As a veteran fighter, Saevius was nothing if not a survivor and I enjoyed seeing him outwit and outlast hostile elements from his first person perspective.
The author did a great job with the historical aspect giving many interesting details about gladiator life in and out of the arena, one of which was that it’s okay for rich married women to bed these fighters but it’s a big no no for them to sleep with a citizen or free man. This fact was cleverly utilized in the story. I also liked how 78 AD Pompeii came alive without overwhelming the reader with tons of info.
The mystery sounds simple but executed with enough suspense and surprises to keep me glued to the book. Calvus suspects his wife was sleeping with somebody from Drusus’ ludus (house), who might or might not be a gladiator, and wants to put an end to the affair to save his reputation. Drusus, on the other hand, wants to find out who might potentially be another Spartacus. With both masters demanding complete loyalty, it was Saevius’ strange attraction to Drusus that tipped the scales.
Seen through the eyes of the gladiator, Drusus was, for the most part, a mystery but damn was he intriguing! He’s cold, cruel, calculating and something else. I totally get why Saevius was drawn to him without actually knowing much about the person. And while the book is not really about romance, the romance kind of sneaks up on you in that delightful slow burn way. Then BAM! came that big twist which I never saw coming. The best part of it all was that Saevius was super cool about the whole thing. What a sweetheart! The only problem with twists like this is that the hashtag is a spoiler so I’m not putting a tag on it.
I haven’t read that many gladiator stories but I think The Left Hand of Calvus is one of the best ones out there. The story is short, gripping and fast-paced. It just grabs you from the start and keeps you enthralled. If you like twisty historical stories about battle-scarred warriors grappling with impossible situations, this one’s for you.
Other L.A. Witt books here
4.5 Stars – perfection is only half a step away