Tuesday, July 18, 2017

BLOOD DEBTS (Leonidas the Gladiator Mystery # 1)
Jennifer Ashley
JA/AG Publishing
July 9, 2017

Leonidas, the most feared and successful gladiator of   Rome in the first century AD, has finally received his freedom. But what is a retired fighter to do with no money and no skills that easily translate into life in Rome? An unknown benefactor steps in and provides him with an apartment (one room) and a slave.  The slave, Cassia, is the daughter of a scribe who was sold when the master of the house took an undue interest in her. Cassia can't cook, sew or do laundry, but she has the literacy that Leonidas lacks. She is also grateful that Leonidas does not abuse her as she feared might happen. The two are surviving on jobs that Leonidas picks up, such as a guard for incoming merchandise shipments. One such job, for a baker, has not been paid for, is overdue, and the coffers are low.  When Leonidas goes to the baker, Quintus, he is sent to a money-changer to collect. The money-changer, Silenius, owes Quintus and Leonidas must get the money from him.  But when Leonidas arrives, the money-changer is dead in a pool of blood. Leonidas leaves immediately but knows that the guard will be looking for him. After all, everyone in Rome knows him, and he was seen entering. 

Cassia and Leonidas make a good team, each having what the other lacks. Having been taken off the streets as a child and enduring years of training and brutal fighting, it's clear that Leonidas suffers both PTSD and depression. It's a miracle that he has retained a core of inner goodness and a desire to protect others. Cassia's literacy and mathematical knowledge help them to solve the murder and pick up some new friends in the process. Ashley Gardner paints a vivid picture of the streets of ancient Rome; its heat, smells, and general injustice. I am expecting great things from this new series as we learn more about Leonidas and Cassia, and their mysterious benefactor.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

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