The Left Hand of Calvus by L.A.Witt ~ Book Review by Beverley

This Rainbow Award Winner 2013 – is one of those books that make me wish I belonged to a book group…love to have a discussion about it.

Left Hand of Calvus Title: The Left Hand of Calvus

Author: L.A.Witt

Publisher: Riptide

Cover Artist: unknown

Rating: 3.75 of 5 Stars


Former gladiator Saevius is certain fortune’s smiling on him when a Pompeiian politician buys him to be his bodyguard. But then his new master, Laurea Calvus, orders Saevius to discover the gladiator with whom his wife is having an affair. In order to do that, Saevius must return to the arena, training alongside the very men on whom he’s spying. Worse, he’s now under the command of Drusus, a notoriously cruel—and yet strangely intriguing—lanista.

But Saevius’s ruse is the least of his worries. There’s more to the affair than a wife humiliating her prominent husband, and now Saevius is part of a dangerous game between dangerous men. He isn’t the only gladiator out to expose the Lady Verina’s transgressions, and her husband wants more than just the guilty man’s name.
When Saevius learns the truth about the affair, he’s left with no choice but to betray one of his masters: one he’s come to fear, one he’s come to respect, and both of whom could have him killed without repercussion. For the first time in his life, the most dangerous place for this gladiator isn’t the arena.

Beverley’s View:

I do not read many historicals, but the Roman Empire does attract me. This author creates the feel of living in Pompeii, and the world of the gladiator very well. I could taste the sand and sweat, feel every bruise, of which there were many. The story is quite involved, an intelligent device to draw the reader even further into this world of ancient history. Having said this, I did find the world building and historical detail overwhelmed the story a little.

The novel revolves around Saevius and is written in first person from his point of view. I found him a very likeable character and I felt totally invested in his struggle to obtain peace in his life. This peace he hopes will come after living and fighting for masters, in the gladiatorial ring, for many years. Saevius presents himself as a shrewd judge of character, which I suspect is very necessary for survival in his world, and he never acts hastily or without a survival strategy. This makes the position he is inveigled into so unfortunate. Through manipulation and desceit he finds himself  spying for two powerful men from opposing camps. If he betrays either he will end up dead or worse, but to be true to either, is to betray the other. One man is a highly corrupt politician, the eponymous Calvus, the other is the master of the gladiatorial school, Drusus.

The real excitement and twists in the story do not occur until 80% into the book, but from then on I was very intrigued as to the drama would play out. Unfortunately, the twists and chases with elements of real emotion and tension are over and done with very quickly in the last 20% of the book. I would have preferred a little less world building, and a little more time within the heart of the drama.

As this book was the Rainbow Award winner for Trans fiction, I presume it is not too much of a spoiler to talk about the trans character. I admire the author, L.A.Witt for making a transgender character the centre of the story without needing to put the whys and wherefores of being transgender in the spotlight. I liked the idea of him being not only accepted in the physical, brutal world of being a ‘Lanista’, but actually feared and respected. I really admired the use of a breastplate as a sort of Roman ‘binder’. However, the very things I admired were also, in my opinion, the downfall of authenticity.

Drusus is a very physical character. He is physically feared by gladiators! The descriptions of his strong charisma and personality can only take this so far. Sadly, when Drusus is seen by Saevius in the brothel it is his physical fragility and female slenderness etc., which is described. On one hand I disliked the obvious gendering of strength and charisma, but I’m afraid I could not accept this trans man as being physically capable of the feats demanded of him in the story. One example would be the scourging of Saevius. Although, nowhere near the toll it takes upon the victim’s body, the act of whipping someone’s back to shreds is very physically draining, and requires an awful lot of strength.

Having said this I did enjoy this novel and congratulate L.A. Witt for introducing a trans main character in a historical setting. I also greatly admire that sexual desire is never in doubt, but there is no explicit sex, which would have been wrong, and too problematic in this story.  We are left in no doubt as to Saevius’ feelings for Drusus, or that they are returned and the completion of the book leaves the story slightly open-ended in a way that could see the return of these characters. I hope so.



Buy Links

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I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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