A love story with a difference. Offering a vividly portrayed panorama of a long vanished world, Liberty is at once a prince-and-pauper love story, a tale of unrequited love, a clash of cultures and a historical drama rolled into one. The scene is Roman Britain at a time when the Empire is at its height (Second Century A.D.). Marcus Aurelius is Emperor, Agricola the Roman governor of Britain.
Rhyddes, a beautiful young Celt from Northern Britain, is sold as a slave in Londinium to pay her father’s taxes. Her new owner, Jamil, an Egyptian but a Roman citizen, turns her into a female gladiator. Early on she encounters Marcus Aquila, son of Agricola. For him it is love at first sight. She also feels attracted but cannot bring herself to love one of her people’s conquerors.
Marcus has rebelled against his background and the intrigue of Roman politics, preferring to become a gladiator – a liberty extended to aristocrats – and fight in the ring. He wants nothing more than Rhyddes, now known by her gladiatorial name of Libertas. Yet his father has other plans and soon Marcus is betrothed for dynastic and power reasons to Messiena, daughter of Roman senator Falco.
The story moves from gladiatorial contests in Londinium and elsewhere in Britain to Rome as the mutual infatuation between the two main characters becomes obsession. Can the two lovers unite despite cultural and class differences and taboos? For Marcus the obstacle is his inflexible father Agricola, who senses in Libertas the type of wild Celtic spirit to enflame the subject British people, as Boadecea had done a century before. She has a guardian and mentor, for her owner, Jamil, loves her like a daughter. He sympathises with the plight of the lovers.
Waiting for them both in Rome is Messiena, her marriage to Marcus imminent. Along the way the main characters must encounter reversals of fortune and intrigue as well as bloody and near fatal combat in the arena. And waiting also in Rome is a bigger threat.
Kim Headlee has written an entertaining and highly readable adventure yarn, supplemented with detailed notes on the period, the characters and a glossary of terms and places. She has crafted a story that brings the era to life. Her unique blog is also well worth a look for aspiring and published writers alike.
This review is by Sean Farrell, a book reviewer of many years standing for Ireland’s largest newspaper book review section. He also reviews selected books for BooksGoSocial.