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Dael Forest

Barba the Slaver
New English Lib, 1975
Barnes & Noble


The cover proclaims of Barba the Slave Dealer “He pandered to the lusts of decadent nobles with slaves deftly trained to submit...” and features a well-muscled male slave in a bikini and a well-endowed female slave clinging to him, but these give a false impression of the nature of the book, probably intended to catch the eye and dollar of readers of Playboy more so than of I, Claudius. Granted, there are some naked bodies, but the very limited sexual activity is discreet, and some of the relationships that you think will turn sexual do not. The plot turns on the fates and fortunes of 5 siblings of a defeated British king, sometime in the reign of Trajan or a subsequent emperor (no dates are given and no historical characters are involved, but there is one reference to a construction by Trajan.) of the 5, 2 get only minimal treatment - the brother who becomes a skilled stone-cutter at a quarry and the brother who succeeds as the principal man of business for a merchant. More time is devoted to the beautiful and shy Mertice, bought by a young noble who is the heartthrob of his slave-women and society maidens and matrons alike, but, despite his engaging personality, this master proves, if not exactly cruel, indifferent to the welfare of Mertice and she is acquired in a bet by an athletic but caring young society woman who treats her well. No sex or near-sex is involved in any of these 3 strands. The principal plot time is spent with the brother, Saelig, and sister, Haesel, who are bought by the noble Hadrian and his wife Areta. Areta wants the tall, good-looking and charming Saelig as her attendant to impress her social circle and surpass the impression made by one of her social rivals, who was the first to have a gigantic personal attendant. Saelig succeeds beyond measure, but Areta becomes more and more infatuated with him and attempts to seduce him. When he resists her evident charms, she becomes first sad and ill-tempered and eventually vengeful, Haesel, also beautiful and intelligent, remains the most dissatisfied with her lot of becoming a slave. She does her job, so well that her master, Hadrian, starts to use her not only as a body slave but as trusted assistant in his architectural and construction activities as he builds a new town along very generous lines. The two become very close, but not physically. Haesel is not easy to win over, but the kind treatment she receives from her master and the kind treatment she sees him employing to his workers makes her see that he is doing his best within a slave system not of his making. Book 2 in the series is her book, and one can see the possibilities of further romance between Hadrian and Haesel. Though real historical characters and events are absent from the book, the description of Roman life, customs and the physical setting is reasonably rich and for the most part accurate. Readers will not be led astray by gross inaccuracies of detail. The fates of the 5 slaves are probably reasonably representative of slave life, at least when the slaves are educated, intelligent and good-looking. Hadrian sounds a bit more like a 19th century social reformer than a second century AD Roman noble, but he is not impossible. The writing is straight-forward, not distinguished by ringing prose but perfectly literate and free from stretches of empurpled prose. This is not the most memorable Roman historical novel you could read, but it is at least average and you do begin to care about or become interested in about 7 of the main characters. This would be appropriate for young adult and adult readers, though teachers of grades below 10th grade might want to check the contents to see if anything might offend administrative tastes. -Fred Mench 6/99

- Fred Mench, 6/1/1999

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