Warning: For mature readers only
The story takes place in an alt-history ancient Rome, one that is heavily reliant on the sex-slave industry which is an industrial complex unto itself. Slaves go through rigorous training, Pavlovian conditioned to only be able to eat and drink when they have orgasmed. Medical advancements have come much further in The Lupanarium’s Rome in that specialized healers can reconstruct a woman’s hymen, allowing them to be deflowered over and over again, catering them to a variety of clients’ wishes.
The Lupanarium focuses on two characters: Matt-Lin and Jak. Matt-Lin is a teen who has survived nine torturous trials of the titular Lupanarium (the only one to do so), having her identity completely broken down and rebuilt into a sex slave. She is partnered with Jak, a jack-of-all trades in that he is a gladiator, educated, and the perfect sex slave with handsome looks and a monstrous phallus. Jak is in demand by both sexes and thus is an expense slave to rent. Matt-Lin’s notoriety of surviving the 9 trials also makes her a hot commodity. The two are often hired together to perform a variety of sexual theatrics. As the story progresses, a seamstress named Joanna crosses their paths, setting into motion plans of escape and an assassination attempt to one of the city’s ruling elite.
The novella is extremely graphic with its sexual content which totally saturates the story. Every act conceivable is mentioned multiple times in the narrative, mostly inflicted non-consensually on Matt-Lin. The sex acts themselves are not explored in any focused detail and are instead presented almost matter-of-factly and concise. This strips away any hint of romance and eroticism from the story, and combined with the intended misspellings of vulgar words, keeps the acts firmly rooted in the grotesque and exploitation genre. This is gritty territory, and Leigh fully succeeds at establishing mood and atmosphere in this regard.
However, there is a downside to this approach in that Leigh fully succumbs to her “telling not showing” the story. The Lupanarium is absent of much details, especially in regards to world building and character motives. Matt-Lin and Jak often perform actions without them being justified in the narrative. For example, in a later chapter, Jak decides to start training Matt-Lin in combat. There’s no rationale or thought process as to why he decides to do this, he simply does, which, of course, services the story later. In the front matter of the novella, the publisher decrees that The Lupanarium is socially relevant; however, because the book is strictly “telling and not showing,” there isn’t much in the story for readers to use to be able to equate the narrative to present-day issues (except at perhaps a superficial level). The goal is noble but falters in execution. So, while The Lupanarium doesn’t quite succeed in this arena, it is still successful at being an exploitation story, a dark journey, and a creative take on ancient Rome. Those titillated by the violence and sex of Spartacus will definitely find allure with The Lupanarium.
Creative Team: Adele Leigh
Publisher: Crooked Berliner
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