Comment: This is the third installment in the Mark of the Lion trilogy by author Francine Rivers. I've enjoyed reading the other two stories a lot and this third one isn't an exception but I admit I preferred the others slightly more than this one, the second one in particular was my favorite.
In this story we follow Atretes, the gladiator who we've met in the first book. Atretes has won his freedom and lives in a house with servants and can do whatever he wants. But the person he wants is his son, the baby his ex lover Julia Valerian decided she didn't want anymore. The baby was given to Rizpah, a young widow who lost her own child and Atretes makes it happen for her to come to him but when he thought he could just dismiss her, the baby won't drink from other women, so he gets her back to take care of him until he finds a way to leave for Germania, where his family might still be. But Rizpah has the Faith and the love and soon Atretes can't help but develop feelings for her even if her words make him restless. But when trouble arises, the escape he thought would be planned happens too quick and to fast to be safe. Or will it?
I enjoyed this book, I won't deny that. I was as eager to read and see what would happen in this story as it happened with the others but I'll be honest, the second book was my favorite ans the one where I was more focused and interested in seeing how it would end.
This third book is centered on Atretes and his anger and disappointment, his lack of confidence in certain aspects while too aggressive in others. I understand why his character is portrayed this way but, overall, I wasn't as invested in him as I was in Marcus, the key character in the previous installments.
Atretes is a man with a lot of issues from his past. He was taken captive after a lost battle and had to adjust to a lot of changes in his life, the main one having to fight for survival and amusement of those who caught him. His experiences with some other characters embittered him even more and, of course being this a Christian book, he doesn't Believe so that's another added thing he has to deal with, namely being close to others who do believe.
In fact, this is something I struggled to accept. In the course of the story, at some point, Atretes is confornted with something which makes him start to believe in God. To me, the way he is convinced didn't change his mind out of true feelings but rather awe and fear. His attitudes later show precisely that so can I say he truly converted, despite some of his words and thoughts? His behavior makes me believe not...
I mean, for me, personally, this doesn't matter that much because my main goal in reading these books is the historical content and romance-related scenes, but how truthful his change in behavior could really be? Not very convincing from a characterization POV.
Most of the book is focused on a journey from Ephesius to Germania and of course, all the lessons and notions Atretes - and others - learn on the way there. Rizpah and Teophilus are two Christians with a strong faith, people who keep trying to change Atretes mind about the existence of God. I suppose preaching and spreading the Word is something people had to do, and still happens nowadays, but the way all conversations they had always, always centered on that... it got a bit repetitive and tiring and I really understand Atretes reluctance...teaching, trying to tell about something is one thing, bit to only speak of it...
Added to the fact these characters weren't as captivating as the ones from the previous book, I struggled a bit more in liking them, even if historically the plot was still interesting.
Nevertheless, the story is what it is and for the most part I could enjoy it without feeling I was constantly immersed in religion. In terms of plot, there were some things I think were avoidable, even if they served to teach a lesson... It always bothers me when authors take definitive measures to stress out a notion. There are ways to say things without being radical...
My favorite things in the story, the historical setting and character interaction were interesting as always and what I looked for the most. In this the author does a great job, as I've seen in the previous installments too, and the whole atmosphere, the traditions of those times really make us thing how much we really evolved - or not. I think that, if a reader is to bear in mind the religious scenes are something to be taken as seriously as one can/want, the fictional story itself is quite amazing and full of details that add flavor to the novel.
I just wish the end had been a bit more happy. It was positive, a HEA happens, we are left with good wishing thoughts and hopes but it wasn't as sweet as I hoped for. Oh well.
I still recommend this one but truly, the second one was better to me.