April 2012, Historical Romance (106 A.D. Roman Empire)
Carina Press, $4.99, 180 pages
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The ancient world could be a pretty brutal place, a reality that gets glossed over only slightly in Surrender to the Roman. While that might put some readers off, I was curious to see what an author would do with a captor/captive romance set in the harsh world of the Roman Empire. I'm glad I gave this book a try because even though it had its issues, it was still an enjoyable read.
Set during the reign of Emperor Trajan, the story opens as Rome has conquered the Dacians. Ademeni, one of the king's daughters, finds herself captured and taken to Rome along with her sister. Her father is dead, Ademeni has already witnessed the killing of her brother, and she does not know what awaits her in Rome. She only knows that she hates the Romans, and her determination to resist only seems to grow. Upon reaching Rome, Ademeni finds herself a slave in the household of the conquering general, Marcus Cordovis. Not surprisingly, a revenge plot ensues.
If you're a reader who hates revenge stories, don't stop here. Things change quickly, and that's one of the elements of this story I really enjoyed. Just as it appears that readers will have to settle in for a long round of Ademeni trying to kill Marcus, Marcus outwitting her, Ademeni trying again and so on, the game changes. After all, Ademeni and Marcus are not the only ones in the house. It turns out that Marcus is a widower, and he lives with his young daughter, mother-in-law, and his late wife's personal maid. Not only are there other people to think about, but these other people give Ademeni something to think about besides her own desire for vengeance and they help her to see a different side of Marcus.
The attraction between Ademeni and Marcus is not immediate and it takes time to deepen into anything approaching love, but under the circumstances, this appears realistic. One thing I liked about this story was that, while Marcus is undeniably powerful, he does not treat the heroine with brutality. Her attempts to escape or to harm him as well as her refusal to adapt to Roman ways all infuriate him, but he does not go out of his way to be cruel to her. In fact, he even reluctantly allows her to spend time with his young daughter and when others outside the household threaten Ademeni, he finds himself growing protective. Though he was not passionately in love with his late wife, Marcus still has no desire to marry again, but he cannot deny that he feels attracted to his intelligent, beautiful, and very frustrating new servant.
One thing this story did not lack was tension. The sexual attraction between the leads feels believable and their consciousness of the power imbalance between them made things feel all the more tense. In addition, there are plenty of plot points that cause the tension to build throughout the story. Ademeni has lost her family and her homeland, and her adjustment to Rome is an issue the leads must contend with. Likewise, Marcus' return to Rome as a conquering general is not the occasion of celebration one might expect. He faces rivals and treachery seems to come from within his ranks. And then there are the Dacians - men from Ademeni's country have been marched into Rome as prisoners. They are destined to meet their ends in brutal games in the arena, a turn of events that make a truce, let alone a romance, between a Roman general and a Dacian princess seem rather unlikely.
The story does falter in a few places as the plot against Marcus can appear obvious to everyone but him, Marcus' family behave in sometimes unbelievable ways with regard to Ademeni, and the emotional impact on Ademeni of all of those Dacians marching to their deaths in the arena does seem to get glossed over somewhat. Still, even with those issues (and I'll admit they are not insignificant), the book ended up being an enjoyable read. I wanted to believe in the leads even if their story has faults, and so in the end, I would give this a qualified recommendation.
-- Lynn Spencer
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