Review: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan

Wolf's Empire Gladiator cover

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (June 28, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • Kindle: $12.99
  • Hardcover: $18.38

Historical fiction set in the future – now that’s something you don’t see or hear every day.  Fresh on the shelves (June 28, 2016) from Tor Books (Macmillan Publishing), Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan is a refreshing new saga where the past and future collide, and the daunting combination turns out to be a fun and exciting new read.

The story takes place in a future galactic empire where Rome never fell. The Roman concept originally centered around the principles and strengths of “the” city, but Christian and Buchanan take the old idea to a new galactic level. A civil war has broken out between the seven “noble” houses, and what better way to settle the dispute than to have the factions participate in the violent imperial games in the arena?

After the haunting murder of her mother and brother in an atomic bomb attack, young Accala from House Viridian trained as a gladiator with the intention of confronting her enemies face-to-face. But as fate would have it, she discovers that sometimes your enemies are your strongest allies, and not every story has a storybook ending.

Though the action does seem to slow to a crawl at times, at just shy of 500 pages, Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator has the look of a classic Greek mythological tale. Not in the traditional epic poem form, of course, but more in a traditional fantasy style with the familiar empire and social class struggles. The intertwined elements of future technologies and the social hierarchy from an ancient empire may get the initial attention of readers, but varied cast characters is the strength of the story.

An epic tale told in first person by our hero Accala, readers will be drawn in quickly by her astute awareness of the world around her and her determination to get revenge. But like every hero’s journey told in epic mythological proportions, a storied weapon sometimes becomes just as celebrated as the hero, if not more. This is where Orbis comes in. Think along the lines of Thor’s hammer or King Arthur’s legendary Excalibur, but in the form of an Olympic discus. A gift for Accala’s father from a barbarian chieftain in tribute for turning back an uprising, the weapon was originally forged by the first Roman settlers. In Accala’s hand, Orbis is a formidable character in itself, worthy of a stand-alone backstory.

Though an accomplished author, this is Claudia Christian’s first novel. But rest assured, she is no stranger to the genre. As an actress, Christian played notable roles like Cmdr. Susan Ivanova in the popular television series Babylon 5 and Captain Belinda Blowhard in the comedy series Starhyke (2009). That same compassion for presenting memorable characters translates well in this literary stint. The collaboration with established Australian writer Morgan Grant Buchanan (the two had worked previously together on Christian’s autobiography Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Addiction) is undoubtedly a combination loyal fans will look forward to reading again and again.

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