Heart of the Arena by Mishka Jenkins

Heart of the ArenaI’ve been a fan of Mishka‘s work for a while now, so all three of her books were on my reading list. I chose Stolen Bloodline first, purely because it’s more my usual type of genre. Though I don’t normally read historical fiction, I knew Heart of the Arena was a must read and set aside a weekend to enjoy it.

I was hooked from the very first page and all but devoured the novel in one sitting.

Set in Ancient Rome, the story follows a young woman, Sabina, who is sold by slave-traders into the life of a gladiator.  Armed with a disguise and the training of an old master, she must set her skills against men accustomed to fighting in the arena.

Mishka should be commended for her research on this book; the language, culture and setting are so authentic it’s like stepping back in time.

The fight scenes are intense; a pulse racing view of the action until you become one of the crowd.  I haven’t enjoyed a tale about gladiators this much, since the film, Spartacus. It was one of my father’s favourites and he watched it until the tape ran out (so it’s a long time ago!). The thing that stood out about the film for me can be summed up by the famous line ‘I’m Spartacus’. It speaks of camaraderie, of honour and the true nature of friendship.

It turns out to be one of my favourite things about this novel. The brotherhood among the gladiators is captivating. The relationships as they develop are moving and sincere. As is the romantic element  of the story; Sabina’s growing affection for the gladiator Cassian.

The psychological element is well thought out; Sabina must keep up appearances as one of the men, all the while developing feelings which make her very much a woman.

It’s a sweet, and engaging romance; a story about love, honour, and friendship. When you add all the elements together, the loss, heart-ache and betrayal, you begin to really care about what happens to these characters. From the gladiator with a big heart, to the woman who binds them all together. It’s a pleasure to read.


Review by Melissa Barker-Simpson