Ben Kane has been able to deliver and deliver and deliver when it comes to Historical Fiction, His excellent (and i hope not finished) Forgotten legion Series, the wonderful Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, and now Spartacus.
At first i was a little reticent about someone doing this in tandem with the TV series, The TV series that while it had started off with the 300 style filming soon settled in to a great portrayal of an iconic character, Andy Whitfield soon came to be the face that came to mind when the name Spartacus was uttered, Kirk Douglas fast becoming a face from the past.
So when i cracked open Ben Kanes new book the face that appeared was Andy Whitfield (RIP). within just a few pages i was back in 74BC Thrace and blood had been spilled. As usual the book is written with the powerful plot and pace that Ben is well known for, but Spartacus: The Gladiator takes it further, deeper and more emotive than the TV series, it does not rely on gliz glamour, blood and guts, Tits and ass. This is the first book in a series that will take the Man and the Myth to a whole different level, and by the end of the series leave us with one of Historical Fictions Iconic series.
This Book as with all Ben Kanes books comes Highly recommended.
(BTW Ben thanks for the Sleep deprivation it took to finish the book)
As winter approaches in 74 BC, few travellers are abroad. But one man is making the long and weary last stage of his way home. Large parts of his homeland, Thrace, a land north of Greece, has fallen under the hated power of Rome. This Thracian has fought in the Roman legions for nearly a decade. Skilled, hardened in battle, a sophisticated fighter. Spartacus.
But home is no longer the safe haven of his imagination. A new king sits on the throne. Treacherous and cunning, he has seized the crown by murder and he will hold on to it by violence. When a Roman slave tradercomes to the village in search of men who will fight as gladiators,Spartacus is betrayed and sold. His odyssey has begun.
The legend that is Spartacus has come down to us through the centuries - the story of a man who took on the might of Rome and nearly brought her down. Now Ben Kane, the brilliant author of The Forgotten Legion and Hannibal:Enemy of Rome, brings to glorious life the first part of the Spartacus story
on 18 August 2012
No one knows what Spartacus the man was really like. There have been suggestions that he was a savage criminal who led a bloody revolt against the Romans, but Ben Kane travels the other route, giving us a Spartacus of honour and integrity, a good man fighting for freedom and justice - a Hollywood hero.
And to a large degree Ben Kane's novel, 'Spartacus: The Gladiator' works well. Spartacus is unabashedly a glossy hero, kind to the weak, smart, resourceful and, of course, handsome. The tale sees the Thracian sold into slavery, entering the brutal world of the gladiatorial arena. Here, aided by a band of followers, he manages to cast of his manacles and lead an ever-growing band of slaves against the might of the Roman superpower.
Ben Kane possesses a keen eye for detail and the book is finely researched; generally you learn new things when reading this author. The tale rattles along at a fair pace and the simple prose allows a brevity to the slower, action-free passages. Having said that, sometimes the prose can be too simple and often strewn with cliches that seem lazy for such an enigmatic author. I found Spartacus' lover, the priestess Ariadne, a trifle irritating and tolerated more than enjoyed those sections in which she featured.
All in all, fans of the genre will enjoy this read. There is nothing too deep nor challenging here yet the pages fly by and I for one will read any subsequent sequels. I don't think Kane is quite yet in the same league as Cornwell or Iggulden, but in time I think he can match these leviathans. I hope he's not rushing his work to please his publishers, yet, alas, that is the way of things, I fear. Give this a go, anyway. It's a lot of fun.
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.
on 27 January 2012
I have read all of Ben Kane's books and enjoyed every one. This is another action packed adventure and worth a read but i don't think its quite as good as Hannibal Enemy Of Rome, his last book, which had a far more involved plot and more defined characters. However, the action in Spartacus is constant and captivating.
The one major disappointment for me was the number of typos in the kindle edition; at over £7 a copy I think about 10 typos (possibly more)is a bit poor. This is no reflection on Mr Kane's writing, more on his editor(s) who have let him down here.
As an aside, I was also disappointed that the Hannibal series was pushed to one side so that the two-part Spartacus story could be brought out. It feels like this may be a commercial decision to piggy-back onto the current popularity of the whole Spartacus legend. Why not continue with the Hannibal trilogy (?) before embarking on a new story. People who bought the first hannibal book now have to wait a year or so for the next one. Just a personal gripe!!
Overall, a very enjoyable story and a worthwhile read.
on 28 February 2012
Ben Kane strikes again with another riveting book/read, with interesting characters and a storyline that mirrors history in well studied detail. If you like or are interested in this genre, then you are sure to read this from start to end but be warned it's graphic and quite different from the current television series running on Sky and out on dvd.
The storyline line moves quickly along and has the main character escaping the Gladiator training school after giving the reader the background of where Spartacus came from and how he found himself to be fighting against former fellow soldiers. With a well supported cast of supporting characters at his side in an almost family like clan, he has to find sanctuary away from the pursuing legions.
With large scale battles, bloody scenes, excitement, passion, comradeship and a story that runs alongside historical fact, Spartacus: The Gladiator is a must for all fans of the subject and a must buy, get it, you'll be glad you did!