In a dystopian Ancient Rome, enslaved prostitutes are brainwashed to eat and sleep only after sex. Love is a concept exclusive to the elite. Sex is a means of survival for the powerless.
During the last days of the republic, a surly teenage girl called Matt-Lin is trafficked to the titular brothel, where she uses a hidden strength and intelligence to seek a way out.
The Lupanarium is the first book in The Many Trials of Matt-Lin and Jak, a series that draws from modern human trafficking, and explores how trauma survivors struggle to find freedom, retribution, healing, and love. With the amount of sex in the series, it would be easy to categorize it “erotica” or “pornography.” However, this book’s primary function is not to titillate. Instead, it comments on, critiques, and satirizes these genres, subverting tropes that often serve to normalize rape culture. This book comes with a graphic content warning for its depictions of sexual assault and child rape.
I couldn’t put THE LUPANARIUM down, although there were times when the graphic nature of this book about the rape culture of an alternative Ancient Rome made me want to throw my iPad across the room. But it’s exactly what the book is about that makes it so compelling. So much of it feels familiar. The book is essentially about a sex-trafficked young woman who is tortured and brainwashed in order to keep her submissive. Yo, if you know anything about real-life trafficking, it isn't that different. Luckily, she's super smart so manages to always get the last laugh. I LOVE that this book doesn't make the idea of slavery and submission sexy like a lot of books do (**cough**50 Shades**cough), although there are plenty of sexy parts with the character Jak, the most successful prostitute in Rome. While thematically this book is grim, there is a lot of humor. The author has the sense of humor of a five-year-old genius with a deeply perverted mind. Sound interesting? IT IS! She created a whole new world, like Westeros in Game of Thrones, that’s well-written and thoughtfully crafted that will leave you wanting more. I can't wait for book two.
This is the disturbingly striking story of sex slavery in a speculative Ancient Rome. Matt Lin is a child who, having overcome enormous feats, is one of the most coveted bodies in the arena. When she meets Jak, one of the most renowned gladiators, she knows she's met her match. Although many will balk at the relationship between a grown man and a child, despite all the graphic sex and violence, there is a tenderness to their story. There is a certain discomfort one has when reading this, but a discomfort that's maybe necessary. A call to question repression and abuse. These things exist in our world, albeit in the shadows. Reading this book shines a light on the many ways sexuality is used to control populations. While this book may be considered "erotica," I felt it was more in the realm of dystopian speculative fiction, not unlike "The Handmaid's Tale."
I find this book hard to talk about on a surface level because it has depth that extends far beyond the genres to which it is ascribed. If one approaches this as just another erotic fantasy, there will likely be disappointment. This book dives headfirst into an area of humanity that few would touch--and it does it with detail, emotion, candor, expressiveness, and a tone that makes the reader want to keep reading. You will cringe. You will gasp. You will pause. You will reflect. And the reflection that The Lupanarium evokes will make it all worth it.
Crooked Berliner (2018)
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (02/19)
“The Lupanarium” is the first book in ‘The Many Trials of Matt-Lin and Jak’ series by Adele Leigh.
In the time of Ancient Rome, Matt-Lin is a teenager who was kidnapped and recruited into sexual slavery as a child. She is famed for being the only child to survive the highest level of brutal and horrific training for prostitutes at the Lupanarium, a famous brothel. Matt-Lin has no memory of her past, but she carries an inner strength which her captors have been unable to touch. She lives a life of sexual servitude, from which others profit. She is not allowed to talk, eat nor sleep without rules being involved. She hides aspects of herself from others including her knowledge of other languages and her ability to read. When she is placed with another sex slave/gladiator named Jak, he tries to guide her so that she will survive, but it is hard for her to trust him because he has to rape her for the entertainment of others. Jak sees something in Matt-Lin that makes him uneasy. He suspects that she might be very dangerous. There is another person who also sees something in Matt-Lin, but what she sees makes her think that she knows who she really is. Meanwhile, Matt-Lin continues to follow her own agenda which ends up putting them all in danger.
The story, while it occurs during a different time period, reflects what is going on today with child sex trafficking. Children are treated brutally and if they manage to make it out alive, they have to live with the physical and emotional trauma that was done to them. In this story, both Matt-Lin and Jak are both damaged from having gone through similar abuses. Jak has more freedom than Matt-Lin, but they are both still enslaved and in servitude to others. Their freedom to be individuals has been taken from them. Even if they manage to escape or buy their way out, they will always be affected by the trauma done to them. I felt that this resonates with children who are being abused today.
This was a hard story to read because of the explicit nature. When I looked up information on the author, I could see that her motivation for writing this story was about how trauma affects victims. I would not recommend that a survivor read this novel unless they fully understand the scope of how graphic the sexual scenes are because this could be a trigger for them. It is extremely graphic and should only be read by mature adults.
I would like to read the future books in this series with the hope that at some point, Matt-Lin will be able to take full retribution out on the people that damaged her. “The Lupanarium” by Adele Leigh is a powerful read you won’t soon forget.