Friday, June 19, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Gladiator #4: Blood on the Sand - Andrew Quiller (Laurence James)

I meant to get back to this series of historical action/adventure novels set in ancient Rome sooner, but other books got in the way. However, I’ve now read BLOOD ON THE SAND, the fourth novel in the Gladiator series (originally published in England under the series title The Eagles). The author behind the Andrew Quiller house-name this time is the prolific Laurence James, who also wrote the first book in the series, HILL OF THE DEAD.

The protagonist of these books is Marcus Julius Britannicus, also known by his gladiator name Vulpus the Fox. As each novel opens, Marcus is the most famous gladiator in Rome, then the story flashes back to his earlier days as a Roman soldier and establishes his history as the son of a Roman centurion and a barbarian princess. Marcus is also motivated by a vengeance quest that runs through the series, as well as getting involved in various historical events such as the Siege of Masada and the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius.

The main storyline in BLOOD ON THE SAND wraps up that quest and also explains how Marcus went from being a soldier to fighting as a free gladiator sponsored by the Emperor Titus. It’s a fast-moving tale without an overly complicated plot, as I’ve come to expect from Laurence James. It’s also lurid, over the top, occasionally crude, and very violent, also hallmarks of James’s work. But he’s a great storyteller, and his books really keep the readers turning the pages. That’s certainly the case with BLOOD ON THE SAND. There’s also a nice, obscure in-joke involving Kenneth Bulmer, one of the other writers who shared the Andrew Quiller house-name.

This was the final Gladiator novel published by Pinnacle (that’s my beat-up copy in the scan), and with the wrapping up of several storylines it reads like the final book in the series. But it’s not. There’s one more, SEA OF SWORDS, written by Bulmer and published only in England. Copies of it can be hard to find, especially at an affordable price, but I came across one a while back and grabbed it. So I’ll be reading it, too, maybe in the reasonably near future.


Unknown said...

I'm a fan of the series. still don't have number 5 though

Anonymous said...

I’ve never read any of these, but as usual, your enthusiastic review makes me want to. Luckily, it just so happens that I have this book on my shelves (plus another Gladiator, “The Land of Mist”). Question : do you think these can be read independently, or are they so serialized that they should be read in order?


James Reasoner said...

I think they should be read in order. Other things happen, but there's a major storyline that runs through the first four books. THE LAND OF MIST is the second in the series, I believe.