These Warriors of Rome books published by Riptide are not for the faint of heart. The first in the series is The Left Hand of Calvus and though it was brutal it wasn’t sexually explicit so I was a little taken by surprise at the sexual torment that takes place in this one. If you haven’t read the first book and are interested in this one, no worries, these two are only connected by the ancient Rome setting.
I need to say something before I begin here because I know this sort of thing is a trigger for some readers and many prefer to avoid it. He Is Worthy contains descriptive scenes of sexual torture and the multiple rape and humiliation of an innocent young man. There are several scenes that will make you shudder with revulsion. It’s not an easy read and there really aren’t any moments of levity to make it any less grueling.
He Is Worthy is set in ancient Rome where an emperor named Nero , insane with power, terrorizes his people for pleasure. Oblivious to the pain and terror of the innocents he harms, his reign of terror gets more brutal with each passing day. Senna grew up with Nero and is in a very precarious position. He realizes his childhood friend has gone off the deep end and he is increasingly disturbed by Nero’s actions but standing up to him means instant death. And he should know. It is Senna’s job to visit those the emperor believes have betrayed him. When Senna utters the words "you no longer have the friendship of the Emperor" they fall upon their own sword. Senna is the messenger of death and feared by most men in Rome. He once believed in the cause but he’s seen innocent men die and has realized Nero is mad But Senna can no longer sit back and do nothing and comes up with a plan to murder his old friend but he needs to find a slave willing to help him.
Aenor is a young man accused of a murder he did not commit and turned into a “pleasure slave” for the emperor. Aenor has been used and abused but has not lost his fighting spirit. When Senna sees him for the first time naked, bound and beaten but not defeated he is attracted both to his strength and his beauty and sets his sights on using him to bring his plan to fruition. Senna’s feelings when seeing him bound are mixed and slightly disturbing to me as a reader. “Senna shifted, adjusting the fall of his toga to cover an erection that sickened him.”
Senna is not perfect and is obviously tarnished by the brutalities he’s witnessed but he is kind to Aenor, even if his motives may not be pure. Aenor responds to the kindness despite his battered state. Hate for the emperor binds them as they work together to bring him down. Amidst all of the horror, they find some moments of solace. This isn’t a sweet and fluffy love story. The relationship between Senna and Aenor is built on lust, gratitude and desperation but I understood it and enjoyed watching them grow to trust one another.
But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t really any kind of romance. I’d classify it as dark historical fiction with some decently drawn main characters. There was a lot of setup, a lot of character introductions and a lot of history that was tossed around early on. I’m not a history buff and admit to being a wee bit confused and rereading the first few chapters to get mostly everything straight. But once things got going it was easy enough to fall into the story. It’s fast paced and filled with pain and in the end Senna turns out to be a loyal man trying to do the right thing in a horrible situation. Senna and Aenor find some peace amidst all the debauchery and loss and it’s a beautiful thing but if you’re looking for a heart stopping, forever kind of romance, well, you might want to look somewhere else.