Gladiator Games - Jana Downs 3.5 stars

This is an intense book in some ways but sweet and frustrating in others. Told from both Angelus and Antinious' point of view, this story deals with confinement, freedom and acceptance of one's desires. It's an interesting book that literally covers many different topics.

Angelus is a Roman noble turned slave working for the same Dominus that Antinious is enslaved to. Angelus is stubborn, brave and daring while Antinious is brutal, brash and has no qualms about hurting others. After all, he's a gladiator made to kill weekly for his master. Angelus lures Antinious in with his challenging nature but Angelus is just as captivated with Antinious' roughness. They have a strange give-and-take relationship that's rocky most of the time but settles eventually. Although their passion is strong, there's no trust between the two. Deception, lies and betrayal play a huge part in their relationship, over numerous occasions but even with everything that happens, there's a connection between the two that doesn't stop them from forgiving each other.

I really enjoyed this story because of who Angelus and Antinious are. How stubborn Angelus is, was appealing because of how Antinious reacted toward it. Antinious is brutal but it's gentled only slightly for Angelus so he's still rough and harsh. It was interesting to see the dynamics these two have and how they deal with it all. I liked how the relationship started in captivity then branched into dealing with one of them being freed while the other is still enslaved. Things get really intense after Angelus is freed because Antinious is the 'Master' in their relationship while Angelus is the 'slave' and they have to come to terms with their role reversals. As I said, this story takes on many themes such as slavery, freedom, escaping, hostages, jealousy, ex-lovers, separation, and even more things. In a way, it's too much but it all kind of comes together in a controlled chaotic way, shaping the story into a very entertaining read.

The story isn't perfect, though. In the middle, it dragged a bit to where I struggled to stick with it. There's also a part near the end I didn't like but only because I don't like themes where ex-lovers are brought back. It brings up old feelings within Antinious that I'd rather have not known, to be honest, because it's made obvious how intense those feelings still are. I felt like it didn't actually contribute anything to Angelus and Antinious story but instead turned the plot into more of Doiros (the ex-lover) and Bellenus' story. Honestly, it just frustrated me. Other than that, they didn't talk like what I imagine Roman's in history would talk. They talked more like twenty-first century individuals than anything else. Plus, there's a lot of sex. They solve their issues by having sex first, talking later (if at all) and it grew tiresome eventually. Also, I wish the ending had been longer, it seemed over way too fast especially since it skipped a few months after the very brief and un-suspenseful conflict.

Overall, I liked the story. There's something appealing about it, maybe the writing, maybe something else that made me stick with the book. I wanted to know how these two worked things out. While some of the story wasn't to my tastes, others of it were and I really enjoyed those parts. I'm wondering if this story will be made into a series because there are questions left unanswered about Ever and Crassus (other slaves), as well as, Doiros and Bellenus and I'd really like to see those four get an HEA as well. With that said, I'd recommend this to those that like shifters and are looking for a hot and slightly sweet story.