Summer Book Club Review: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator

Welcome to VGBlogger’s Summer Book Club! All summer long, we will be providing weekly book reviews across a wide range of geek favorite categories, including art, comics/graphic novels, fantasy, gaming, and sci-fi, and welcoming you to join in on book discussions in the comments. So whether you’re heading out for a road trip, going on vacation, lounging beach/poolside on a nice sunny day, relaxing inside away from the summer heat, or simply searching for a good read to fill your free time, follow our Summer Book Club for our top picks of what you should be reading during these hot summertime doldrums. Please enjoy!


What if the Roman Empire never fell? What if it only carried on throughout the ages until one day the empire expanded beyond Mother Earth to establish domain over the entire galaxy?

Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, authored by Babylon 5 actress Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan, explores this intriguing what-if alternate history scenario through the story of Accala Viridius, a young noblewoman who defies her family station to become a gladiatrix in the pursuit of righteous and bloody justice against those responsible for killing her mother and brother during the bombing of ice planet Olympus Decimus.

The Galactic Roman Empire is divided into provinces, each ruled by one of the eight noble houses. The aforementioned bombing is the catalyst for a civil war amongst the houses, primarily between House Viridian, representing the best virtues of Rome with lineage tracing back to Remus and Numa, and House Sertorian, the descendants of Caligula who seek wealth and power and genetic superiority no matter the cost. The Sertorians are responsible for the murder of Accala’s family, hence her desire to step into the arena as a representative for the Viridians.

To settle this dispute, the emperor hosts the Ludi Romani, a two and a half mile tournament course consisting of chariot races and gladiatorial arena combat. Each of the seven competing houses (the ruling emperor’s 8th house does not participate) puts forth a team of its best gladiators and gladiatrices, the last person or team standing declared the winner. The stakes couldn’t be any higher: the winning team is declared the war’s victor, awarded possession of the tournament’s host planet, and granted high standing in the Council of the Great Houses, while the losing team is punished by having its represented house expelled as one of the eight. As the story progresses, a deeper conflict over the powerful resource of an alien race emerges, threatening the very stability and future of the empire.

Weaving in threads from our own modern societal climate, one of the driving themes throughout is the treatment of women as second-class citizens and the overwhelming chauvinistic attitude towards the female role. Accala is at constant odds with her father, who uses his paternal (and political) power to squash his daughter’s attempts to fight in the games, which would tarnish the House Viridian name. Ever defiant, Accala goes to all possible lengths to prove that she can be a gladiatrix and the heroine that wins the war. That she is more than just a broodmare, destined only to have babies to carry on her family’s noble heritage. But is Accala’s desire for vengeance blinding her judgment? Have her motivations become too tainted by darkness?

Continuing that thought, the book’s one weak point is that Accala, much like Kratos of God of War fame, is so fueled by rage that she can be difficult to bond with and root for a lot of the time, which may prove problematic for some readers since the story is told in her first-person voice. One passage in particular exemplifies her bad ass personality as a sort of female Ghost of Sparta, when in the process of savoring the torture and dismemberment of a foe, she says: “I’m not a god. I’m the scourge of the gods. I’m fury, jealousy, and revenge–all three Dirae wrapped up in one neat package. I’m your worst nightmare, you horrible little bitch.” Though she may not be all that likeable, fortunately her character arc has enough depth and complexity to make it compelling to follow, if nothing else to see how her choices impact those around her and whether or not she is ultimately able to redeem herself.

The world-building aspects were definitely my favorite part. The authors do a wonderful job painting a faithful picture of what the Roman Empire, its politics and social structure, would be like in the future, set in space. References to history and myths lend depth and authenticity to the experience. Armor and weapons are rooted in tradition yet augmented by technology without going too far off into crazy sci-fi land. The rules of gladiator combat haven’t changed over the millennia, but now the games are recorded live by hovering media spherae, while the mob’s influence over the events via the vox populi forums, primarily in the determination of who lives and who dies (the emperor still uses the old thumbs up or thumbs down verdict), ventures into the realm of social media. The confluence of science-fiction and the trappings of ancient Rome makes for a unique storytelling dynamic. It’s a bit like Gladiator, The Hunger Games, and Star Wars all rolled up in one.

There are a few plot holes and contrivances that may make your eyes roll, and Accala isn’t exactly the most likeable of heroines. But all in all Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator proves to be a riveting Roman-themed space opera, delivering a well-realized narrative of political intrigue, family drama, inner turmoil, social commentary, and of course, graphic, vicious gladiator combat. What more could a fantasy/sci-fi geek ask for?

Buy From: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator is available for MSRP $26.99 from and Macmillan Publishers.

Disclosure: A review copy of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator was provided to by Tor Books.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!