After reading Ben Kane's first Spartacus: The Gladiator (Spartacus 1) novel, I couldn't read its follow up Spartacus: Rebellion fast enough. Luckily for us, then, the wait has been a short one. If you've not read the first novel do be aware there may be minor spoilers for it here. Also, I'm presupposing you're aware of the fate of Spartacus!
At the close of the first novel, Spartacus appears, in his own eyes and in those of his vast slave army, invincible. Having disgraced the most senior of Rome's generals in the battlefield, the myth of Spartacus is unchallenged, by Rome at least. But Rome is relentless. It never gives up. We are reminded that Rome salted the soil of Carthage so that it would never yield crops, so resolute was it in its determination to eradicate Hannibal from the face of the earth. How, then, could Rome allow a slave army, a mass of sub-humans, to march free across Italy, turning slave against master? While we all must know the final fate of Spartacus and his revolt, this doesn't make its depiction by Ben Kane any less powerful and poignant.
In this second novel, the tide shifts. Spartacus is matched against Crassus, the richest of Romans, who is aided by Julius Caesar, the most ambitious. Crixus the Gaul, who escaped from the gladiator ludus with Spartacus, has left but further divisions between Gauls and the Thracian Spartacus still threaten. Spartacus' wife Ariadne, the priestess of Dionysus, has terrible dreams that she keeps from her husband. As Rebellion begins, the Alps loom over the army, the gateway to freedom that the slaves have worked so hard to reach. But now that they see this exit from Italy, will they make that break or will they instead turn and march, taking on Rome yet again, ever hopeful that they win freedom in their own homeland? The revolt may not be as controllable as Spartacus would claim.
The prowess as a military strategist of Spartacus is in no doubt and so in this book there are fewer battles than in the first. Instead we read reports, see shamed generals admit defeat in the forum in Rome, witness towns prepare for assault and hear of their fate. The emphasis instead is on the build-up to the inevitable - the entrapment of Spartacus in the toe of Italy - and its affect on Spartacus, his wife, his followers and his enemies.
A figure we think we may know, thanks to Hollywood and more recent TV dramas, has been rewritten by Ben Kane. Spartacus is far more complicated than I was expecting and even more so in this second novel. The public figure is very different from the private man. Although his followers, such as the wonderful rogue Roman Carbo (so often our eyes and ears), love him and are in awe of him, they are also afraid of Spartacus. Very afraid. Any sign of weakness or treachery is dealt with brutally. Spartacus may lament his inability to stop his army from committing acts of rape and murder but he makes little effort, accepting it as an inevitable consequence of warfare. Roman generals decimate their men. Spartacus beats and threatens his. Romans and the slave army compete in cruelty to their captives - it's a close contest.
Spartacus is a warrior first, his thirst for vengeance drives him on. How this tallies with his other role as husband and father is something he and especially Ariadne has to deal with.
Spartacus: Rebellion is a remarkable achievement. Building on the character and drama of the first novel, Ben Kane has turned this legendary figure into a living, breathing and rounded man - charismatic, fearsome, brave. Not always likeable, but a hero many risked everything for. But, in the end, this is a terrible human tragedy and Ben Kane doesn't let us forget the horrors faced by everyone involved, whether they be Spartacus and his men, Roman legionaries, or innocent slaves murdered in the fields they didn't own. Spartacus: Rebellion is most definitely far more than a book of battles.
Ben Kane's research is meticulous and he presents his knowledge at a pace and with a heart. This novel presents a terrific conclusion to the series and I can't recommend it enough.
on 22 September 2012
I've waited until I finished the second book to review these two, since I read them back to back and a 2-part series is relatively rare. Given that, I will not be writing a separate review for each book. This review is for both Spartacus the Gladiator and Spartacus: Rebellion.
I've been a fan of Ben's writing from the start. His Forgotten Legion series was groundbreaking in a number of ways and quite astounding as a debut. I was then fairly stunned by Hannibal, which I consider to be one of the finest pieces of ancient Historical fiction written. Despite the high quality of FL, Hannibal showed a new maturity in writing and more depth of character and soul.
So on to Spartacus. I won't say, for the record, that this series is better than Ben's Hannibal (and its future sequels.) It is as good as Hannibal, and that's just dandy by me. I wouldn't have wanted Ben's style to change after Hannibal, as that book hit the spot just right for me. What I will say about these books is that there has been a slight change in conventions that I found refreshing and excellent (more of that shortly).
I won't say much about the plot, to be honest. Anyone who follows any review I write knows that I don't like to risk spoilers. But, that being said, the general tale of Spartacus is a matter of record that most people will have at least a basic knowledge of. So, bear in mind that you sort of know how this saga is going to end. I mean, there's only a certain amount of license a writer can realistically get away with (and Ben Kane seems to be very sparing with artistic license anyway) and to have the books end with Spartacus riding off into the sunset would be a little hard to swallow.
So prepare yourself. I spoke to Ben at the History In the Court event a few days ago and he wondered whether I'd cry at the end, given that apparently a lot of others had. Well, Ben, I have to admit to a few sneaky tears there, but to be honest there had been eye moistening for at least two chapters in anticipation...
One thing I find I have to say and it's the only thing that could be construed as criticism, I suspect, is that in both books, I actually wished they were slightly longer, despite that they were long anyway! The reasoning behind this is that the time spent in the ludus at Capua has some of the most important plot buildup of the whole story, but I felt that I would have liked to see more of the non-plot-important gladiatorial contests during that time (some are reminisced about or alluded to that I'd have liked to have read directly.) It is possible, of course, that this is my own problem fuelled by having recently watched the Spartacus series and craving such fights - bear in mind that it's almost impossible to read Spartacus without drawing certain comparisons if you've watched the series, but I'm confident these books will come out of the comparison favourably. Similarly, in the second book, a number of the smaller battles or skirmishes that are not critical are referenced only in reminiscence or conversation, and I kind of missed seeing them myself. Again, perhaps just my bloodthirsty tendencies showing through.
But on with reviewing: One thing that I particularly loved that was, if memory serves me correctly, a new convention in Ben's writing, is the regular inclusion of an `inner dialogue' for the major characters. At first I wasn't sure how I felt about this, but as the books progressed, I decided I really liked it and loved the effect it had on conversation. Often two characters will converse, but their private thoughts have a secondary conversation above them. This really gives a boost to the understanding of the motives and desires of the characters.
Another big win for me was the character of Carbo. Clearly a fictional creation, Carbo is the Yin to Spartacus's Yang in many ways and provides a counterpoint to the main star. I will say that he is in no way a sidekick or comedy relief. He is a strong protagonist in his own right, but helps to balance Spartacus. Well done for Carbo, Ben. Not only is he an important character, a plot foil, a companion and so much more, he is also the main chance the book has for any sort of positivity in the outcome.
Similarly, I loved Navio, and the portrayal of the young Caesar. On the Roman side, it is interesting to see Caesar and Crassus at this stage in their development, giving an insight into what creates the men who will exist and are portrayed in the Forgotten Legion.
Incidentally, as well as the sadness of the inevitable conclusion, there is one scene in the first book (a death scene) that I actually found worse. It was for me a harrowing read with all the soul-crushing skill of a Guy Gavriel Kay work. Fabulous in its awfulness.
In an echo of the plot construction of the Forgotten Legion, there is an overriding element of the mystical and the divine in this work which goes deeper than simply describing the attitudes of the people in the setting, but actually provides foretellings, insights, and even explanations as to the reasons for the events of the Third Servile War. One day I may well go back through these books and read them with a different mindset, going in to them with the idea that the whole string of events is somewhat defined and informed by prophecy and divine whim, rather than the straight historical viewpoint I attacked them with this time.
All in all, these two books create the deepest, most realistic and yet refreshingly different telling of the Spartacus rebellion yet. Forget Blood and Sand and Kirk Douglas. The characters here are authentic feeling and very much sympathetic, even on the Roman side. The fights and battles are up to the very high standard that fans of Ben Kane's work will have come to expect. The undertones of divine influence are subtle and yet powerful. As always, Ben appears to have meticulously researched everything and the historical accuracy of the books is as strong as I can believe it could get. There is never a let up in the story's pace or the action, and you will genuinely be as sad at the conclusion that you have no more to read as you are at the storyline itself.
It's a win on many levels. It's so sad that there's nowhere to go and the series has to end there. There could always be the possibility of a prequel, of course, since sequels are unrealistic. But anyone who watches Ben on twitter will be able to heave a sigh of relief knowing that he's working on the next Hannibal book now.
I have read Ben Kanes books since the very first one
Forgotten Legion Chronicles
1. The Forgotten Legion (2008)
2. The Silver Eagle (2009)
3. The Road to Rome (2010)
1. The Gladiator (2012)
2. Rebellion (2012)
1. Hannibal: Enemy of Rome (2011)
And like all great authors his writing gets better with every book. So it should be no surprise that i say this is his best book so far.
But its more that just a gradual improvement for this book. The book doesn't rely on swords and sandals blood and gore or epic battles to help push the Plot / story on, it doesn't appeal only to the blood and guts brigade.
It in fact goes the other way, if i had one disappointment it was every time i expected a battle i didn't get one, the plot jumped forward a few days. But it didn't diminish the book in any way in fact the book was far more emotional because of that. The reduction of battles made the fall out from battles won and lost more real, more human and utterly grim at times (not in a way that's depressing, just showing that war isn't fun and isn't to be gloried)
There is no way to spoil the end of this book, we all know the fate of Spartacus and his men. So i feel safe in saying that escape from the encirclement in the toe of Italy was horrific and so well written. But it was the ultimate fate of the majority of the survivors of the last battle that was the crowning glory of the book. It was depressing, horrific, full of sorrow and pain and so well written you cannot help but feel anger at the brutality of Crassus and deep emotional pain for Carbo (the true star of this book) , Ariadne and her Son.
An excellent book that will go on my must be read again pile, and that's a select group of books.
Simply an awesome read.
Very Highly recommended.
Continuing the epic story of Spartacus, the gladiator slave general who held Rome to ransom through two years, SPARTACUS; REBELLION is a novel about one of the most extraordinary turning points in history, in which one remarkable man found immortality and became a legend.
From the Inside Flap
The mighty slave army, led by Spartacus, has carried all before it, shredding the legions of Rome. Who can stop him now, in his triumphant march towards the Alps and freedom?
Can Crassus, the richest man in Rome, raise an army big enough to stop him? Will the defection of Crixus the Gaul, and all his men, fatally weaken Spartacus? Or will murmurings of discontent within his vast army of slaves turn to outright rebellion?
While storm clouds mass on the horizon and spies and traitors stalk the land, Spartacus must face the most important choice of his life - forward , over the Alps to an an uncertain freedom, or back, to face the might of Rome and attempt to break its power over them forever
on 13 September 2012
This is a must have for all fans of the Spartacus story, brilliantly flowing read, Ben brings to life the story of one of history's greatest warriors,and the companions who made his achievements possible, i was gripped not only by the action but also the way the author brings to life the harshness of the time. I will be looking forward to future works from Mr kane.
on 7 September 2012
I have read all of Ben's books and they just keep getting better, as someone else has said this does not just rely on battles, blood and guts and gore, the story is vivid and gives the reader a possible insight into the man behind the legend (all be it Ben's interpretation) a fantastic read for any roman novel fan. Can't wait for the next book from this author.
on 21 February 2015
I tend to welcome the end of a Ben Kane novel only when I know there is another one close behind it. I never want them to end, but having the next novel on my bedside table is about the only thing that makes the end of a Ben Kane novel bearable. I was fortunate enough to read "Spartacus the Gladiator" relatively late, which meant when I reached the end that promised more, I could move straight onto ''Spartacus: Rebellion''
Spartacus has led his group of slaves to victory after victory over the Roman legions. As he predicted, however, the Romans will never take this lying down and for every victory he wins, there is another battle to be fought. Spartacus has a plan to lead his army out of Italy over the Alps, but to avoid a split in his army, led by two Gaulish commanders, he abandons this plan to turn South into Italy, thinking he can maybe move his army to Sicily.
Meanwhile, in Rome, a massively ambitious senator is pushing to be the one to lead the next army against Spartacus. Furious at not being recognised for previous victories in battle and not being thought of as a great soldier as well as a great orator, Marcus Crassus uses his great wealth to build an army greater than anything Spartacus has faced before. After a failed assassination attempt on him by Spartacus and Carbo, it becomes personal, not just for the glory of Rome.
Whilst no less effective, ''Spartacus: Rebellion'' is a completely different book to its predecessor. Whereas "Spartacus the Gladiator" was a little like a bull, with a headlong charge through events, this is more like a hunting feline, occasionally creeping along quietly, but ready to pounce at any time. As is Kane's way, just when you're getting used to the book's hunting behaviour, that's when it bursts into action and, like a lion's prey, things can get a little messy.
Whereas the first book was almost entirely focussed on Spartacus, there is a greater cast of characters here. Castus and Gannicus, the two Gauls who are sick of following Spartacus' orders, come more to the fore, as does his trusted soldier, Carbo. But it is the rise to prominence in these pages of Crassus that really makes this book what it is. He provides the perfect foil to Spartacus, in character as well as in war and it's obvious very early on which side the reader is intended to prefer, with the geniality and ease of command that Spartacus has settling much easier into the mind than Crassus oily, insincere nature and much harsher treatment of his troops.
This contrast makes the character development far more distinct from the earlier novel as well. Such is Kane's expertise at writing emotions the reader can feel, when Spartacus feels the pressure of his command, the reader also feels it. His desperation and the acts this leads him to are obvious in every word and I could understand his reactions, whether I liked them or not. As Crassus' arrogance increased with every success, so I sided with Spartacus and wanted nothing more than to reach inside the pages and punch him in the face, or worse. If I didn't revere books as much as I do, I may have resorted to ripping out the pages that Crassus was on and stamping them into the ground, so hatefully was he written.
The book isn't all about military tactics and Kane retains here the ability to write direct confrontation with such detail the reader can feel it. When Crassus has some of his army take part in an act of decimation, the horror of it is perfectly clear and the imagery so vivid that it is an effort to avoid the physical sickness that affected the soldiers just reading it. An attempted rape on Ariadne by Castus is so well written that her desperation and disgust reach off the page to the extent I wasn't sure whether I should first admire the writing and keep reading or turn away in revulsion of the act.
As I always find with Ben Kane's novels, I was so engrossed in the story than the ending comes as something of a surprise, as I tend to lose track of time and how many pages remain whenever I'm in his world. This time, it's more frustrating than before, as I have no idea what Kane is planning next, or when it will be in my hands and history will come to life for me again. Whatever events the next novel will be about, I have every confidence it will be worth the wait, I just don't want to wait for it. and I would suggest you don't wait for it, either.
This review may also appear, in whole or in part, under my name at any or all of www.ciao.co.uk, www.thebookbag.co.uk, www.goodreads.com, www.amazon.co.uk and www.dooyoo.co.uk
on 9 September 2012
Spartacus Rebellion is the final book in Ben Kane's Spartacus series. In this book we find Spartacus commanding a massive slave army. Since escaping from the lupus with Crixus, Carbo and the rest of the gladiators, Spartacus has defeated every force the Romans have sent against him. With slaves flocking from all over Italy to join his army the Romans know that they have to destroy this ragtag slave army before it gets too powerful.
In the Roman senate, Crassus is determined to seize control of the Republic's armies and defeat the slaves himself. He believes that when he crushes Spartacus and his army, he will be the most powerful man in Rome and be able to establish himself as sole ruler of the Roman Empire. With his vast wealth and the incompetent performance of the Roman commanders so far, Crassus believes he is a step closer to fulfilling this dream but first he must destroy Spartacus before he becomes a danger to Rome itself.
Meanwhile all is not well within Spartacus's army. Crixus's defection with his men has highlighted the tensions that have surfaced in the slave army. While Spartacus has led them from one victory to another he struggles to keep his army together. His dream of leading his army to safety across the Alps isn't shared by all.
They wonder why they are running from the Romans, have they not defeated every army sent against them and why would they leave when they have unfettered access to the riches of Central Italy.
Spartacus knows that what ever happens, he will need every man he can find if he is to stand a chance against the Roman war machine, which will not stop until Spartacus and his army have been wiped from the face of the earth.
It must be extremely intimidating to take on one of the most famous stories, starring some of the most famous men in history and one that is so closely associated with the film starring Kirk Douglas but the author in my humble opinion has not only taken it on but has improved it!
The character of Spartacus is a complicated one, over the intervening years he has become everything from a freedom fighter, brigand to an early communist!! The author has written what feels like a more genuine version of Spartacus. The Spartacus we meet is a general who is a genius at the art of war, he can inspire a disparate group of men to achieve results that rocked the ancient world. Utterly ruthless he has no qualms about ordering the deaths of people who get in his way. He also inspires unwavering loyalty in his close followers and they will give up their lives to protect him.
I also got the impression that Spartacus and Crassus were not so different. Both men craved and enjoyed ultimate power and having control over so many lives and were quite happy to use force to keep that power.
The author also handles the enigmas of the Spartacus story, such as why did he turn back from the alps, why did the pirates not turn up to transport him safety and the end of the Spartacus story with what feels like a realistic and plausible reasons.
While the story of Spartacus is well known this is without doubt Ben Kane's Spartacus. You get the feeling that the author has really enjoyed writing these books and I must warn you that the final climatic battle and harrowing walk along the Via Appia is one of the most emotional scenes I have ever read. I cannot recommend this book enough, it is a fabulous ending to the series.
on 5 October 2015
After reading the first book of this short series, I has this volume on hand to turn to as soon as I had completed the first novel - it was another page-turner.
I enjoyed the various characters in the book with the possible exception of Ariadne. I understand that there needs to be female characters in the book for realism and possibly for we womenfolk, but she was a bit annoying at times.
Navio was an interesting addition and explained why the slave armies were able to be well-trained and disciplined and one man, 'Sparty', could not have done all that himself. I also enjoyed the sparring contests in the Senate house in Rome and the political subterfuges and bribery that went on. It was interesting to see a young Caesar starting to get involved with the man who will be part of the Triumvirate with him eventually.
It was grittier than some of Kane's other work and was quite a harrowing read at times.
One has to read the two books without thinking too much about Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis on the one hand and Blood and Sand on the other.
The books are deep and exciting enough for all pre-conceived ideas about the Slaves' Rebellion to be ignored and to enjoy them as a totally fresh take on the whole story, even if everyone does know how it's going tto end.
on 22 April 2016
Having already read Ben Kane's Forgotten Legion trilogy and the Hannibal trilogy I was very much looking forward to reading both the Spartacus books and I was not disappointed.
Sadly I don't have a great deal of time for reading these days but still managed to finish them fairly quickly as I didn't want to put them down. As ever Ben's storylines are exciting, the characters are brought to life vividly and at times I almost felt I was actually a bystander at the battles. I found myself almost cheering aloud for the ever growing army of slaves.
Rebellion is the second of the Spartacus books and over the two books we meet a whole host of colourful characters, from Spartacus himself, his wife Ariadne, other gladiators that escape from the ludus with him (including the Roman Carbo), slaves that join along the way and of course the rich and powerful Crassus. I particularly liked his inclusion of Carbo and of Navio - both Roman born but fighting on the other side.
Of course the general story of Spartacus is well known so I knew what was coming at the end.
I'm now eagerly looking forward to reading the Eagles of Rome books.
on 16 April 2014
Fantastic sequel and a great way to finish the series. Such a pity that only 4000 words exist on the Spartacan revolt but like all great authors, Ben uses his artistic license to great effect and turns it into two great books.