Title: Games of Rome (Dominus: Book Two)
Author: JP Kenwood
Pages/Word Count: 339 Pages
At a Glance: If you love a plotty and well written historical with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters, I can’t recommend this series enough.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: In this sequel to Dominus, Gaius Fabius Rufus, the victorious general of Rome’s brutal Dacian Wars, finds his loyalties and his affections pulled in different directions. Should he return to Rome and secure his claim to the imperial throne, or remain at his seaside villa and protect his pleasure slave, the fierce Dacian prince, Allerix? Retaliation for the murder of his beloved friend beckons him home, but his desire for justice could put both him and Allerix in mortal danger. As Gaius’s deceptions multiply, another tragedy strikes. Will the Lion of the Lucky IV Legion be forced to sacrifice his besotted heart to achieve his aspirations for supreme power?
Every moment since Allerix’s violent capture has tested the young prince’s fortitude and cunning. If he can kill the triumphant emperor who decimated his Dacian nation, revenge and immortality will be his glorious, everlasting rewards. But to realize his scheme for vengeance, he must deceive the Roman master whose body he lusts, the handsome, arrogant man whom he has grown to adore and admire. Can two former enemies—the conqueror and the conquered—find trust and true love, or are the consequences of war destined to tear them apart? Can Gaius and Allerix survive the perilous games of Rome?
Dominus is a plot-packed erotic m/m fantasy set in ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). Games of Rome is the second book in this alternative history saga—a tumultuous journey of forbidden love, humor, sex, friendship, political intrigue, deception, and murder.
Review: I love when a book meets every one of my expectations. I love even more when a book exceeds them, and JP Kenwood’s Games of Rome does just that in every way. I was so impressed by the author’s Dominus, and now, that book’s sequel has proven Kenwood’s talent for solid storytelling, building beautiful settings, offering the perfect amount of historical context, creating engaging and layered characters, and tapping into readers’ emotions. I don’t mind admitting this book wrung a few tears from me either. When an author can accomplish that, forming those sorts of attachments between reader and characters, it makes the reading all the more rewarding.
Gaius Fabius Rufus, the Lion of the Lucky Fourth, is many things–Commander, war hero, husband, master, and friend and former lover of Lucius Petronius. Where this book exceeded my expectations is not only that the historical setting is portrayed in such a way that grounds the reader in what feels like an authentic Ancient Rome, but that the book also is a compelling mystery–both in the past and in modern day Rome. Lucius’s murder becomes a central focus of Games of Rome as we watch Gaius grieve, promise retribution, seek absolution while often seeming a walking contradiction–warm and tender one moment, cold and commanding the next, charming and sometimes cruel. Gaius is nothing if not a mercurial man whose arrogance seems to know no bounds–if I’m being honest, he isn’t always easy to like–but is tempered by that ability to charm. Where the book offers a bit of the unexpected, however, is in its supernatural elements. This was so unexpected that I wasn’t certain how I felt about it at first, but it was woven into the storyline in such a way that became integral to the plot, and now I can’t imagine how the story would have been better without it. As for the modern day mystery, this is being teased out in the tiniest of morsels, and this installment has only served to pique my interest even more. Archeology uncovers its share of secrets from the past, though it doesn’t always provide answers. There are definitely more questions than answers right now surrounding the pair of skeletons discovered at a dig site, and I haven’t a clue what JP Kenwood will reveal in further storylines. All I know for sure is that the author baited that hook and I’m hanging on gladly.
From the Emperor to clients to slaves, Gaius has a life filled with a variety of diverse people and experiences, all entrenched in the Ancient Roman culture and portrayed beautifully in these books. I don’t know much about this historical period but can say Kenwood seems to have not only an interest in but an affinity for the era. Ancient Rome dominated, it was the seat of some of the world’s most impressive art and architecture, and the Romans were responsible for many advancements in civilization at the time, but, to our sensibilities, it was also a barbaric time in which people sat in arenas and watched prisoners of war be eaten for sport. Slavery was commonplace – both household servants and pleasure slaves, male and female, owned by both Gaius and his wife, Marcia – and these books feature several prominent slaves in key roles. Sex, for Gauis, is a near sport in itself, where he can display his prowess and dominance and, with one slave in particular, his benevolence, and those moments of contradictory cruel tenderness come to the fore. Alle, a Dacian prince, war prize, and now, Gaius’s most prized possession, has captured his Dominus’s heart and has added another dimension of intrigue to the plot. Their relationship is fraught with complications and questions and potential hazards. Can either of these men manage not to betray each other? I can hardly see how it will be avoided and am anxious to see how their relationship progresses.
One of the more interesting characteristics of this series is Gaius’s marriage, as well as the social contradiction of men having sex with other men. There is no expectation of monogamy in the marriage as is certainly portrayed on Gaius’s part; nor is bisexuality strictly taboo. It was, however, unacceptable for men to engage in a sexual relationship with a peer. Same sex encounters were left strictly between slave and master, which is what adds such a poignant end note to Gaius and Lucius’s affair. I love that these books are informative but not in a textbook way. The author weaves these small details into the plot in a way that makes them all the more interesting, and, when it comes down to it, makes this series unique in the LGBT fiction genre.
If you love a plotty and well written historical with plenty of intrigue and interesting characters, I can’t recommend this series enough.
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