Book Review + Exclusive Interview: Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk

Blood and SandTitle: Blood and Sand
Author: C.V. Wyk
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
Publisher: Tor Teen
Source: Purchased
Format: Hardcover
Age Group: (Upper) Young Adult/Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction

The action-packed tale of a 17-year-old warrior princess and a handsome gladiator who dared take on the Roman Republic―and gave rise to the legend of Spartacus... For teens who love strong female protagonists in their fantasy and historical fiction, Blood and Sand is a stirring, yet poignant tale of two slaves who dared take on an empire by talented debut author C. V. Wyk. Roma Victrix. The Republic of Rome is on a relentless march to create an empire―an empire built on the backs of the conquered, brought back to Rome as slaves. Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation. Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus...
"I just think of darkness - total nothingness. It's warm and cool, tiny and infinite all at the same time. And you're alone, but you realize that you've never truly been alone. The universe spins on around us and through us. What makes it unfathomable is what makes it so beautiful. Everything just ... stops."
When she said it like that, with her eyes looking into the distance and her voice drifting on an unseen breeze, it almost sounded beautiful. But Attia knew better. "You speak of death," she said.
Lucretia turned her eyes back to her. "I speak of peace. For some of us, it's the same thing."

The writing, as evidenced by that short quote above, is one of the most glorious aspects of this debut book. Seriously, I could have read this book in one sitting had it not been for personal/professional obligations. Even then, I managed to read it in 3 days.

This dual narrative, from the perspective of Attia and Xanthus, is founded on the battle between "death" and "peace" as we are given an insider glimpse of a world full of powerful men whose sole purpose was to dominate and take control of lands. The setting is some time around 70 BC, and to be honest, I can't remember the last time I read a well-written YA book set during this time which was a welcome gift.

The story begins with Attia, a shackled slave and believed to be the last of her race, is gifted to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome. The gift can only be given to him by his master (Timeus) who is someone you will grow to absolutely despise. Within the house of Timeus, secrets are well guarded within the walls but Attia has several of her own.

She is a trained warrior and strong and is a main character who possesses admirable traits. She makes no excuses and does not falter when she stands up to others based on her steadfast principles, despite being a sheep in a wolf's den. But she is broken, as is Xanthus.

Xanthus perfectly complements Attia. Although he has killed many men successfully fighting battles in the Colisseum, he also has a warm and gentle heart. What the two have in common is the second thing I truly enjoyed of this story. The discussion becomes, who are we really, if we have no home to go back to? How do we define ourselves and is our journey to that self-definition constantly changing? A sign of a great story is one that allows us to ask ourselves these questions long after reading the last page.

So strong female leading character, check; sexy yet conflicted male lead, check; slow-burn romance, check; amazing secondary characters that play just a large of a role as Attia and Xanthus, check. Check, check, check.

I highly recommend this story, especially if you enjoy fast-paced action scenes, complex and interesting characters, and romance that isn't contrived. Seriously, I implore you to check this one out. The only small little gripe I have is that there will be a second book. I would have preferred Blood and Sand to have been a longer, standalone read. But now I have something to look forward to!
As always, happy reading!

Trigger Warning: Historically, the story of the ancient Romans is a very bloody and inhumane one. During these times, gladiators and their fight in the arena was truly a spectator sport and the author does not shy away from including bloody and gory scenes. And because women were truly not appreciated or valued, especially among powerful men, there are instances of physical abuse. If you are not comfortable with these topics, even though they are true to the historical context in which the story is set, this book will not be one for you.

First, I absolutely loved this story and I didn't realize how much I enjoy this period of history. What made you choose this particular story? You give us a little background in the "Author's Note" of the book, and you state that there isn't much documented history when it comes to Spartacus as a man. That we really don't know what his intentions were at the time to lead a revolution. Out of all the fascinating time periods, events, figures we've had over the course of history, why do you think you were particularly drawn to this slice of history? Was it because of the unknown?
Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! The idea for the story kind of came to me in a backward way. One evening, I was just sitting at my computer staring at a blank word doc, my fingers itching to type something, and with absolutely no plot in my head, I ended up writing what would become the first line of the book: They called them slaves. It was a line that begged to tell the story of injustice, identity, and revolution. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to write a futuristic dystopian, even though I’ve loved books in that genre. I was a history major in college with a particular fondness for ancient history. I am also a sucker for movies like Gladiator and 300, and that sentence kind of brought all of those loves together. So, I instead decided to look back and explore one of the oldest and most infamous dystopian societies we know—the Roman Empire.
Maybe you will answer this with my last questions, but did the idea of Blood and Sand begin with the world or with character? And if character, was it with Attia, Xanthus, or both at the same time?
The idea for the book began with the world (and that sentence), but the character of Attia was right on its heels. Once I realized that the book just had to be set in ancient Rome, I was immediately drawn to the enigmatic figure of Spartacus. But writing an origin story for a gladiator and revolutionary as a young man just felt a little too done, too familiar. As soon as I wrote the first scene where Attia escapes through Rome, I knew she was the firestarter I was looking for.
There are many fighting sequences throughout Blood and Sand. Were these particularly difficult to write? Did you have to take a class or "play fight" with others to figure out what body part goes where? And are action scenes particularly difficult for you to write, or do you find them easy whereas other aspects such as dialogue or plot, more difficult?
The action scenes were some of the most fun to write, probably because I watch a lot of action movies haha! They weren’t necessarily easy, though. Plenty of times, I just had to close my eyes and try to remember where everyone’s arms and legs were going. I played those scenes in my head like a movie, and I tried to write them in a clear but entertaining way. The plot was definitely harder. “What comes next?” is one of the most difficult questions to answer well, and I’m still learning and growing as an author. One lesson I’ve taken away from BLOOD AND SAND: outlines are our friends!
This is your debut! Congrats! I assume that most debut authors have full-time jobs or at least, have a job to be able to financially sustain themselves. The reason I ask is because I'm always curious about the delicate balance that exists between working (where there is an obvious reward of money) versus writing, where you don't know if the pursuit of your dream will ever lead to something real and fruitful. How have you balanced these moments? Is self-motivation an integral part to becoming published? Is this the first book you write?
I work full-time, and I’m also going to school for my master’s degree, so balancing what are essentially three different jobs has been a challenge, to say the least. But writing has always been something that I’ve loved doing, and I wrote BLOOD AND SAND before I ever thought about the possibility of being published. It was just a story that I wanted—needed—to tell, and it was my first full-length novel. Motivation certainly played a part in helping me find an agent, but honestly, so did a strong dose of naiveté. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing! I didn’t know enough to be scared of failing. Now, I’m actually grateful for that haha.
How long did it take you to write Blood and Sand from start to finish and do you outline or just go where the story takes you?
The first draft practically burst out of me; I wrote it in about three months. Of course, it went through several rounds of edits before it was finally done, but that first round was like a sprint! I didn’t outline anything for it, which made revisions more complicated. Now that I’m working on the sequel, I’ve definitely invested more time in planning ahead. That being said, I have no idea how my next book (outside of the Spartacus universe) will come about or evolve! I guess every story needs its own way of being told.
Personally, I would have been happy if Blood and Sand was a 500- or 600- page book. But it wasn't and I see there is a sequel. Will the story end with the sequel? And was it your choice to split the story up? I'm curious about your decisions versus decisions by the publisher.
BLOOD AND SAND was planned as a trilogy from the beginning, partly because it was always intended for a younger audience but mostly because the books are almost like acts in a play—they each focus on a different aspect of how the characters grow into the heroes that history remembers. I pitched it that way to my agent, and she and my editor are the only people who know how everything ends! I will say that after discussions with the publisher, the original final chapter of BLOOD AND SAND was cut and is now one of the early chapters of FIRE AND ASH. Authors are often reminded that these are our stories to tell, but there are always points when you have to decide whether or not to take the professional advice of folks who honestly just have a lot more experience than you do. Luckily, my editor has always supported my vision for this series, and I’m incredibly grateful for her guidance.
What other authors have inspired you? And what are you reading now?
Oh, where to start? Early influencers were Marion Zimmer Bradley, Juliet Marillier, Phillip Pullman, and, of course, J.K. Rowling. Later, I was thrilled to discover Dot Hutchison, Robin LaFevers, Suzanne Collins, and Madeline Miller. I just finished “The Song Rising” by Samantha Shannon, who’s another favorite of mine!
C.V., thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I look forward to the next book and I hope this book becomes as successful as it deserves!
Thank you! And I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. It means everything to hear from people when a story resonates with them, so I appreciate this so much. It’s really become my favorite part of being a writer.

C.V. Wyk

C.V. Wyk is the author of BLOOD AND SAND, debuting from Tor Teen in winter 2018. Born and raised in Los Angeles, CA, Wyk now resides on the east coast along with a precocious mini poodle and demanding guinea pig. In her not-so-spare time, she enjoys playing MMORPGs, kayaking, coding, hiking, staring listlessly at blank walls, and nursing a totally healthy coffee addiction.
Find Wyk online HERE.


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