Monday, March 31, 2008

Sword of Rome by Constance O'Banyon

Adhaniá is the princess of the Bahiri bedouin tribe, sister to the tribe's Sheikh, Lord Ramtat, who is himself married to the sister of Cleopatra. Normally, Adhaniá is a wild and untamable girl, who can ride and shoot with the best of them, but when she enters the Golden Arrow contest, a contest to show the best rider and archer in the Bedouin, and wins it, she angers her brother beyond reason, and he tells her she will never be able to attract a husband. When she later joins a group of dancers to show him that she *will* be able to attract a husband, he finally snaps.

Cleopatra has asked her sister to join her in Rome, where she is living with her lover, Julius Caesar, but Danaë is pregnant again and cannot go. Instead, Ramtat sends Adhaniá there instead, to learn some manners and to grow up. She is aghast and begs to stay, but he is firm. She is upset at missing the birth of Danaë's new child, and fears that her nephew, Julius, will forget her while she is gone, but Ramtat will not be moved.

Marcellus Vallerus, tribune of Rome, had been to the Bahiri tribe to deliver Cleopatra's message, and witnessed both Adhaniá's performance in the Golden Arrow competition and her dance, but he is amazed by her skill and daring. Since he is to guard her until she takes ship to Alexandria, they find themselves thrust together. He says admiring things about her, and she finds herself immensely attracted to him, as he is to her. Just before they are about to part, he asks her for a token, her veil, and she gives it to him. The sight of her face strikes him to the heart, for she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, and he cannot forget her.

Marcellus goes home to Rome, where his stepfather is waiting. Having married his mother an indecently short while after his father was slain, and catching them together just a few days after his father was killed has made Marcellus despise his mother and hate his stepfather. Add to the fact that his new stepfather, Senator Quadatus, is always short of money, having long ago paid his creditors with what his mother inherited from his father, and Quadatus is constantly seeking to ingratiate with his stepson so that he can parlay Marcellus' relationship with Julius Caesar into money for himself, and Marcellus cannot stand to be in his company. Indeed, he can barely be civil to the man.

But Marcellus doesn't know that his mother was forced to marry Quadatus, and that when he caught them together in what he thought was a lover's embrace, it was actually the aftermath of his mother's rape by Quadatus. She also despises her new husband, but cannot tell him the truth for fear that Quadatus will have her son killed. It is how he blackmailed her into marriage in the first place... after having her husband and Marcellus' father killed. Now, Quadatus is embroiled in a plot to kill Caesar, but her son will not believe her, and she doesn't know where to turn.

When Adhaniá arrives in Rome, Marcellus is there to greet her, as part of her official escort. But when Cleopatra hears of the plots to kill her lover, she asks Adhaniá to become a spy and ferret out the truth of the conspiracy, by posing as a dancing girl who can speak no language but her own, and thus evesdropping on the conspirators. But can Adhaniá do these things without losing her innocence? And will Marcellus be able to protect her from the plots of the conspirators? Or will Adhaniá's willingness to help his mother doom them all?

This is a great romance novel, set around the time of Julius Caesar's assassination, and set (mostly) in the city of Rome. As with the best romance novels, the plots and plans surrounding Caesar's assassination help drive along the romance events and the romance adds urgency to the plot. Adhaniá is wild and reckless, but she never does anything stupid merely because it would serve the plot to have her act so. In fact, her only less than intelligent act comes as she tries to save Marcellus' mother when she meets the woman to hear of the plot on Julius Caesar, and even after she is captured, she escapes on her own and makes her way to Rome to try and warn him.

An enjoyable plot, incredible characters, and a romance that will make you glow when you remember it, this is a book to seek out and read. You'll be glad you did!

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