Lawhead, Stephen. Taliesin.
My childhood memories of the novel focus heavily on Charis, a princess (almost a goddess) from the now-lost world of Atlantis. For a character written by a man, Charis is pretty full of womanly strength and female empowerment, but she is not without her weaknesses. Some of my favourite parts include her feats of strength and cleverness in combat, which I won't describe here because I don't want to spoil the delightful surprises Lawhead has in store. Suffice to say that Charis gets some serious action sequences.
And--oh!--the bull ring! Lawhead's gift for description shines in every action sequence throughout the book, but none are quite as dazzling as the scenes in the bull ring, in which athletes leap over bulls' horns, perform feats of acrobatic prowess, and face both the animals and the constant threat of injury or death. My childhood mind was captivated by these scenes, and the actuality did not disappoint.
The eponymous Taliesin isn't so bad himself; he is the foundling son of a once-unlucky king (the discovery of the infant transforms his father's luck) and is quickly destined to become a great bard. For most of the book, Lawhead alternates the stories of Taliesin's family with those of Charis' declining country; this sometimes keeps both stories moving along well, but can also, occasionally, make both threads seem a little more sluggish.
Finally, where Lawhead's language is concerned, it is at once both wildly inaccurate (most likely and of course) but also fresh, modern, and witty. His women are not doormats, and his men woo with both perseverance and humor. Of particular note are Elphin's defense of his betrothal to Rhonwyn (at the beginning of the book) and Charis' persistent negotiations with her brothers about halfway through the story. There are many slow points (probably a side effect of Lawhead's extensive research) but numerous chapters crammed full with action and fast-paced dialogue.