Monday, June 23, 2014

Slaves Of The Empire #3: Brotan The Breeder

Slaves Of The Empire #3: Brotan The Breeder, by Dael Forest
August, 1978  Ballantine Books

Stephen Frances (aka “Dael Forest”) delivers another melodrama set during the Roman Empire, once again picking up immediately after the previous volume. It seems more and more that the Slaves Of The Empire series is really just one very long book split into five separate volumes. No attempt is made by Frances (or the publisher) to catch the reader up on anything, so if you’ve forgotten minor characters or situations, you’re out of luck. 

However, one stumbling block for Brotan The Breeder is that, while it starts off where Haesel The Slave ended, with Hadrian and the now-vanquished-by-love Haesel waking up together after a night of (non-detailed) good lovin’, the narrative soon jumps over to the new-to-the-series character Brotan, a freedman who runs a “farm” outside of Rome. This material goes on for about 60 pages, as we learn all about Brotan’s Farm. Frances pulls out all the stops here, showing how very different the ancient world was from our own. 

Brotan’s business scheme is to buy leases on slaves who are knocked up – slaves forbidden to get pregnant, of course – and to trundle the women off to his farm, where they will work the land in various degrees of difficulty in accordance with their stage of pregnancy. Brotan leases the women for three years, and to get more bang for his buck, so to speak, he tries to get each of the women pregnant again, as many times as possible, using the “randy guards” who patrol the farm! Brotan then sells off these infant slaves, taking them from their mothers immediately after birth.

We see how the farm works through the eyes of Fabia, a minor character who only appeared long enough in the previous volume to lose her virginity to Strabo (muscle-bound pleasure slave of the depraved Poppea). But Strabo also succeeded in getting Fabia pregnant, and now she’s shipped off to Brotan’s Farm. Along the way she is taken advantage of by one of the freedman guards, though this dude’s gentle and Fabia falls in love with him…not that Frances really follows up this subplot. Instead more time is devoted to Malen, the doctor who oversees the pregnant women on the farm, and there follows a long sequence as we watch him on a normal day’s work.

Finally we get back to the main storyline(s) of the series. Brotan decides to venture into Rome for the first time in decades, carting in a new shipment of slaves, which he sells to his colleague Brotan, last seen in the first volume. Brotan has an auction, and Saelig shows up – Brotan uncomfortable around the now-wealthy Briton who was once himself a slave on Brotan’s auction block. Saelig buys all of the women; there is a touching scene where one of the slave-girls, “comely” but for one leg shorter than the other, only succeeds in generating a thirty-sesterce bid, and that’s after scant bidding, and Saelig offers a hundred for her.

Saelig has been busy building a villa in a large swath of land he’s bought, inland from resort destination Baiae. Here he treats the slave-girls like friends and lovers, trying his hardest to drum out their servile attitudes and make them call him by his name. Areta, Hadrian’s wife and Saelig’s former lover, visits him from nearby Baiae, which she’s decided to make her permanent home. Now much more cool-headed, Areta has sworn off the haughy bitchiness expected of the typical Roman highborn woman, but nonetheless is shocked over how casually Saelig treats these women; he’s even managed to get one of them pregnant.

Areta is further shocked over Hadrian’s blasé announcement that he’s in love with Haesel and intends to treat her as his equal. Areta isn’t upset because Hadrian’s her husband, as they no longer live together and Areta herself has picked up a new lover, some dude named Sark; she’s upset because treating a slave equally will make Hadrian look like a fool. But Areta is such a changed character that eventually she dismisses even this, content that Hadrian is happy.

Since Areta has dropped the mantle as the series harlot, Poppea takes it over. Oft mentioned since the first volume but unseen until now, Poppea turns out not to be the Empress of Desire or even Poppea the Elder; Frances has a habit of just using various names from Roman history, this being another instance. Poppea is though a whip-wielding, slave-beating hussy, and when her wealthy husband realizes she’s making a fool of herself, debasing herself in her lust for studly slave Strabo, he arranges for dumb-as-an-ox Strabo to be kidnapped onto some merchant vessel and conveniently taken from Rome for several months.

Another ongoing plot concerns tomboy Melanos, who is about to give birth to the child she conceived with the now-dead Plautus. Meanwhile she still entertains herself by taunting Alexander, the wealthy fop who continues to lust for her. As we’ll recall, Melanos now owns Mertice (ie the sister of Haesel, Saelig, and the other Britons of the first volume), having bought her from Alexander, who barely registered the girl, despite her obvious obsession for him.

Melanos, playing a game, dresses Mertice up like a highborn lady and invites Alexander over for dinner, with Alexander immediately pining for this girl he’s certain he’s seen before. But Mertice, following Melanos’s orders, leaves Alexander in the lurch, and Melanos digs the knife deeper by revealing to Alexander that he’s been lusting over a slave. It all ends with Alexander swearing vengeance and Mertice crying due to her continued love for the fop.

As usual there’s a bit of sex here and there, particularly when it comes to detailing how casually it was treated in the ancient world, but it’s relayed in the same antiseptic style as previous such scenes. More focus is placed this time out on the travails of the pregnant women in Brotan’s Farm and the ongoing melodramatic storylines. And speaking of Brotan, he continues with this volume’s continued theme of men debasing themselves (willingly or not) for slave-girls.

In a very strange storyline, Brotan happens upon Vanus, an attractive Roman woman. Brotan, fat and lecherous despite (actually due to) his wealth, immediately latches upon the woman, not just due to her beauty but because she treats him like shit. Brotan, having ruled his farm for the past twenty-odd years, is so used to being obeyed by slaves that it takes him for a loop that here, finally, is a woman who tells him where to go.

So what does Brotan do? He turns himself into a slave, following Vanus around and doing everything for her; things get pretty lurid when he makes himself her bed-slave, not there to have sex with her, but to lick her feet after she’s had sex with other men (and women)! In fact Brotan is so thoroughly taken with Vanus that he signs out of his contract on the farm, turning it over to doctor Malen, and decides to stay here in Rome as Vanus’s slave. It’s all very strange.

Once again Frances turns in a short book, about 160 pages, that still seems to be longer, due to the small print and thick chunks of text. As with previous installments, more focus is sometimes placed on telling than showing, and as stated there’s still a distant vibe to the book, same as the ones that came before, of an author who wants to write Roman trash but doesn’t want to get his toga dirty.

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