A copy of By Blood or By Bond was kindly sent to me by Hazel B. West in exchange for an honest review.
When I first started reading this book I was very impressed by it, and I remain impressed by the characters and how much I felt for them throughout the novel – they were the reason I wasn’t completely ripping my hair out over the inaccuracies of what is supposed to be a researched novel.
It is essentially the story of a young Celt, Caolán, who sees his father murdered by a Roman centurion, Viggo, and is then taken to Rome as a slave, but ends up in a ludus to train as a gladiator. Along the way Caolán and Viggo have to come to terms with losing their father and son, respectively. Whilst this makes the basis of the plot it in no way describes it in its entirety. There is much emphasis on the importance of brotherhood, whether that is through blood or bond, throughout the novel and I really enjoyed reading about the relationships between Caolán and Fáelan (I would have loved them to be lovers and not just friends though), and Viggo and Hector (even if their relationships seems to become less important at certain points in the novel). Amatus and Lucius are perfectly despicable villains and create a nice contrast to Viggo and Caolán. There was a touch of romance (when is there not?) but it was well done and didn’t overwhelm the rest of the novel.
Maybe I’m the one in the wrong but I’m pretty sure it’s doctore not doctor and lanista not lanistra, maybe both can be used but it still frustrated me beyond belief when I read it. I’m also fairly certain the name Viggo would not have been used in Roman times, amongst Roman men, as it has origins in Scandinavian and Dutch; it’s one of my favourite names but it never felt right in the context of a novel set in Ancient Rome. There are also frequent grammatical errors and some of the sentences are structured bizarrely, almost as if West has tried to use too many words to describe something.
Aside from the errors, and despite the predictability of the ending, By Blood or By Bond is extremely readable and intriguing, with characters that really get under your skin. I think with another round of editing this could be a very good novel, as it has an awful lot of potential and West does portray relationships beautifully.
Read: August 23rd-27th 2013