Erryn reviews ‘Nova Praetorian’ by N.R. Walker. This book was released by the author on October 24, 2018, 394 pages. The audiobook was narrated by Joel Leslie. The audio was released August 27, 2019 and is 12 hours and 19 minutes long. A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
Why I read this book: Any collaboration between Joel Leslie and N.R. Walker is at the top of my list.
Quintus Furius Varus is one of the best lanistas in Rome. Tall and strong in build, fearsome in manner, and sharp of wit, he trains the best gladiators bound for the arenas of Rome. When Senator Servius Augendus seeks personal guards, he attends the Ludus Varus for purchase of the very best. He puts to Quintus an offer he cannot refuse, and Quintus finds himself in Neapolis, contracted as a trainer of guards instead of gladiators.
Kaeso Agorix was taken from his homelands of Iberia and delivered to Rome as a slave. Bought by a senator to be trained as a guard, his fate is handed to the man who would train him. Absent free will, Kaeso knows his life is no longer his own, though he soon realizes the gods have favored him when he learns his new master has a kind heart.
Quintus and Kaeso forge a bond that far exceeds the collar at Kaeso’s neck, and together, they discover the senator’s move for promotion has an ulterior motive. Thrown into a world of politics and conspiracy, of keeping enemies close, they move against time to save Rome before traitors and the gods themselves see to their end.
And in doing so, see the dawn of the nova praetorian – the new guard – rise.
When an author steps away from their known brand, it’s always a risk. An author who is known for rom-coms writes a dark thriller filled with mayhem and destruction. An author who writes paranormal horrors writes a fluffy mpreg. It’s a risk to an author, for sure. Jaclyn Osborn wrote ‘Axios’ a few years ago and it was a risk. Taking on two young boys during the time of the Spartans was something outside of her known wheelhouse. Well, ‘Nova Praetorian’ is a risk for N.R. Walker but one I’m hoping she feels panned out. She was nervous about both the writing and releasing of the book, but I’ve seen plenty of readers who’ve gone so far as to leave positive reviews.
Today I’m adding to the pile.
I want to start with Joel Leslie’s narration. He has a wide range of accents, so I was interested to see which direction he would take for this book. His narration for Quintus is exactly as I’d have predicted – imperious and accented with something that came off as a bit British but definitely carried the authority. His voice for Kaeso had me scratching my head until I did a bit of research. The Iberian Peninsula comprises of what is today known as Portugal and Spain. Giving Kaeso a slight accent from what would be that region worked brilliantly (and forced me to look something up on the Internet and any day where I learn something new is a good day). In fact, I learned many new things as the book was obviously well-researched. But that knowledge was slipped in and I never felt overwhelmed by it.
First I’ll say this is an appropriately violent book. People who lived in ancient Roman times often were raised with a thirst for blood. Gladiators often partook in Primus – a fight to the death. I’m not a huge fan of graphic violence but it was completely appropriate for the story and worked well.
Quintus is a man among men. He trains warriors and gladiators so he must always be on the top of him game. He must be able to take down those he trains, best them so to speak. He is sure of himself and, on occasion, a little arrogant. But he needs to keep his wits about him when politics come knocking on his door in the form of Senator Servius. The man all but threatens Quintus, forcing him to leave behind all he’s known and move into protecting the Senator. It is only after the arrangement is agreed upon that Quintus learns Servius’ true plan.
Kaeso is a slave. He was dragged from his home in bucolic and rural Iberia, forced to bear witness to unspeakable violence, then thrown in a ship and brought to Rome as a slave. He shows defiance to the Senator and is ‘given’ to Quintus, forced to wear not one but two collars. As a former free man, he’d never contemplated what it would mean to belong to someone.
An interesting dynamic develops between Quintus and Kaeso. Unlike many Roman slave owners, Quintus treats his slaves well, almost as equals. He respects their autonomy and never takes what is not given. He wants Kaeso desperately, but he’s not willing to make the first move lest Kaeso feel obliged. Well, Kaeso has a mind of his own and, slave or not, he wants Quintus with equal fervor. It takes time, but eventually Quintus takes his ‘rabbit’ and the two men create a bond far stronger than owner/slave.
At the heart of this violent novel of political intrigue is a love story. A beautiful love story. And a story about learning to see things from other people’s perspectives – or, as it is better known, empathy. I fell in love with these men and despaired of them finding their happy ending. They did find it, though, and I was truly enchanted by the ending.
As I said, Joel Leslie did an amazing job narrating this long and powerful audio. If it hadn’t been written by Ms. Walker I might not have ventured to listen to it and it would have been to my detriment. I’m glad I took a chance on this wonderful love story.
10/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 5/5 Stars
She is many things; a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who she gives them life with words.
She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things…but likes it even more when they fall in love. She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.
She’s been writing ever since…