(Review originally posted at Book Lovers, Inc.)This book starts right in the thick of things, opening with a swift and brutal win for a gladiator in a Roman arena. The gladiator is immediately noticed by a widowed matron who is drawn to his raw strength. The two later meet, setting off a chain of events involving the very emperor himself.It would help to have a little bit of knowledge of Emperor Caligula and the time frame that surrounded his rule. The story gets of to a quick start, and while the cruelty of the leader is very quickly established, there is no exposition to orient–which is to be expected in a story of a shorter length. Basically, either come prepared with the context, or just relax and enjoy the ride. )It did take a little while for me to get into the story, for some reason. I did feel like the early portion of the tale had some mechanical bumps, and the story moved fast–I mean, really fast. Of course, this is a story of abbreviated length (just under 20k words), which necessitates economy of explanation and description. But even the soft, tender moments of budding romance and emotional connection (and the deliciously lusty bits ^_^) moved dizzyingly quickly to me. All told, I didn’t immediately get absorbed into the story, and didn’t ever completely feel connected to the emotional aspects–namely, the romance.Where the quick pace did work well for me was in relation to the plot against Emperor Caligula. This was particularly the case in the last third of the story, in which the political intrigue takes center stage. Even knowing the historical events surrounding Caligula’s demise, it was quite interesting getting to see that plot thread unfold with excitement and danger laced throughout.The author certainly did her research, with historical facts mixed in with small, humanistic details that brought life to the setting. Such additions definitely helped provide something to stop and revel in as the plot plowed ahead.I did enjoy following Livia and discovering the depths of her strength and courage. She herself is like a gladiator, showing support those who prove their bravery and taking steps to defend justice even in the face of grave peril. She was an easy character to like, and to me she stood out against the exciting backdrop of Rome under the oppressive rule of Caligula.Bottom line: All told, this is an easy read, full of excitement and bits of well-placed detail on a fascinating time period. There’s a decent dose of sensuality laced with intrigue and mystique. It’s very, very fast paced, so expect to breeze through it. You should defiitely check out Stella (of ExLibris)’s very excellent 5-star review of Mask of the Gladiator for some more insight on this tale.