Clouds of War is the third in the series so if you don't want any hints as to what happened in the previous two novels, please don't read on!
The bloody field of Cannae has left the forces of Rome and Hannibal reeling, many thousands of their soldiers dead. The focus now moves to the island of Sicily. Syracuse is held by Carthaginian forces, its mighty walls and harbour protected by the war engines of Archimedes. In Clouds of War, the third novel in Ben Kane's Hannibal series set in the early 3rd century BC, Quintus, a Roman equestrian now in disguise as an ordinary legionary, is one of the many to camp outside the walls of the city. What he doesn't know is that his sister Aurelia is within the walls, a captured slave. Her rescue, though, comes at the hands of Hanno, the Carthaginian she has loved since he was himself enslaved to her own family years before. Now she and Hanno must fight to stay together while the world around them falls to pieces during this most violent and brutal of sieges, not knowing that one of the men who threatens them is her own brother.
There is much more to Clouds of War than the horrendous siege of Syracuse. We follow Quintus and his tent brothers as they fight to win the trust of their centurion, the brave Corax, while doing all they can to avenge the cruelty of Pera, a monstrous coward who is also, luckily for him, the cousin of Marcellus, the supreme Roman commander. At sea and in the streets, it's a battle for Quintus to stay alive. In the other half of the story is Aurelia, the young Roman matron whose father died at Cannae and whose husband is now lost. What Aurelia has to endure in Rome and Sicily is perhaps even more painful than what Quintus must undergo sword in hand but it is also completely different. Aurelia has no independence and quite aside from that Clouds of War harshly demonstrates how she and countless other women in war are its victims.
Clouds of War is, I think, the best of the three novels published in the series so far. I had issues with the second, but not with this. Quintus and Hannibal are much more clearly defined and distinct, as are the events that carry them along through this exciting novel. Aurelia is also much more interesting, although I would argue that what she has to suffer seems more than any one woman should have to cope with. She, more than anyone else in the novel, is damaged and I think that is clear throughout even when she tries to rebuild her life during these most traumatic of situations.
The battles and skirmishes that lead up to the siege, and then the siege scenes themselves, are thrilling while also being utterly brutal. I don't enjoy reading about the rape and slaughter of women and children and so I did take pause a little but it didn't feel gratuitously done. Quintus is an interesting character here. He has the qualities you'd expect from the hero of a Roman military novel but he has his flaws and his grip on what matters does take a hit or two, especially when there's the chance of diving into an amphora of wine. Hannibal is a slightly less interesting character in Clouds of War than he has been but I think that's mostly because this novel focuses on Quintus and his sister and I like that the book does that. The novel does leave some unanswered questions - more than one character disappears without further mention - but this is an ongoing series.
As always with Ben Kane's books, Clouds of War reflects his meticulous research into Roman and Greek warfare, history and places. It is written extremely well and with great authority. In Clouds of War, as with Kane's superb Spartacus novels, Kane also brings to the fore the humanity of these three young figures, victims of their times, and, as a result, this is a richly rewarding, compelling read and without doubt my favourite of the series. I'm grateful for the review copy.
Its very easy for a lot of historical fiction to get classed as swords and sandals. Most peoples who dont read the genre have the impression thats its a bit of a dry, wordy style book with a lot of stabby stabby blood, war death maybe some sex and then the end. Firstly Swords and Sandals is so much more than that, there is humor, comradeship, tactics, fighting skills, characters and more, so never judge a book by its label.
That said Clouds of War is not swords and sandals in my opinion, so if you read the genre or not this book is something different, something much more personal, its a history lesson, its a life lesson, its a story of love, life, grief, both personal and national and romance. Its a book filled on a very personal level, it has an energy, a pace and a deep love of history you don’t find in many books, and not many authors have the skill to carry off.
As usual with my look at a book, i’m not going to risk spoilers, or try and pull apart the plot, too much chance of spoiling the book for others. The book blurb tells you all about this stage of the story of Hanno, Quintus and Aurelia. What i will talk about is once again is Ben’s amazing writing. There are a few authors who can leave me thinking about a book for more than an hour or so after i finish the review, There are even fewer who can elicit a real emotional response. Maybe i’m a sentimental old Granddad these days, but some of the familia led plot was just heartrending. I guarantee that this book will reduce some readers to absolute tears. Where with Anthony Riches you know that at some point someone is going to get a yard of steel through the guts, its almost part of the boys own action of it. With Ben it again is no surprise to see death, but it could be murder, famine, thirst, disease or war and it might not be just a family member it could be a whole village, a legion anyone. The man is so much more brutal when it comes to mortality, but only in terms of relaying the brutality of life and war in the ancient world.
Ben probably more than any writer shows you life in the ancient world, warts and all. And none of that should put a reader off, just the opposite, you MUST buy this book. This is the culmination of years of writing lessons learned, adding all the feedback, adding every nuance and experience to his writing skill.
This truly is a must buy Highly recommended book
This is the third book in a series based around Hannibal. I read this as a stand alone book not having read the first two. This worked well and although there were occasional references to earlier happenings I didn't feel my enjoyment was any the less for not having read the first two.
Hannibal himself plays a very small role in this book. The action centres around Hanno, an officer favoured by Hannibal and Quintus who is a basic foot soldier in the Roman army. A majority of the action takes place in Sicily at the seige of Syracuse.
This is not really my sort of book and I wouldn't pick it from the shelves. However, it was my bookclub book for the month so I embarked on it not being totally sure how much I was going to enjoy it. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I did enjoy this. There is plenty of action with small skirmishes, full blown battles and slaughters. It is quite a gruesome book in places but this is a gruesome time. I did feel that the author had taken me into the period of history very well. Life is very obviously cheap and priorites are very different to ours. The author manages to portray the violence of the war, murder and rape without explicit details. he set enough of a scene that my imagination could take it from there!
There are some excellent characters in this book and I particularly took to Quintus, the Roman foot soldier and his comrades. I don't know if they would have been as close to each other in real life but it worked well in the book. Quintus is portrayed as quite war weary and having some qualms about the mass slaughters that he is involved in. However, he is not above killing for his own purposes. Hanno is more involved in intrigue and less in hand to hand combat. He seems a likeable chap but more solitary than Quintus.
This book did stall a bit in the middle when there seemed to be a lot of waiting around & not much happening. Admittedly there was a seige on so this was probably true to life but my interest did start to waiver a bit. Fortunately this didn't last long enough for me to give up on the book and it soon got underway again.
I did enjoy this book and it was good to be challenged by reading something out of my comfort zone. There were some culture shocks particularly by the excessive mentions of getting drunk and going to the toilet - though it wasn't described in quite those terms! It is a violent and brutal book but nothing that wasn't in keeping with the time period. Would I read another one? I probably wouldn't deliberately seek out a similar book but if someone suggested one to me I would give it a go.
on 27 April 2014
Hooray, hooray, it’s released today…
Those of you who’ve not already had it on pre-order, scurry along and buy a copy of Ben Kane’s latest opus today. Why? I’ll tell you why…
Hannibal has always been my favourite of Ben’s novels, and therefore the series my fave of his series. The first novel (Hannibal: Enemy of Rome) was a stunning delve into not only a period of Roman history that’s not often dealt with, but also into the nature of love and friendship in a time of brutal war. It was simply excellent. The second book (Fields of Blood), though not quite topping the dizzying heights of the first book, was also a fine work, delivering just what the title suggested as Carthaginians and Romans fought desperately across Italy. Book three, simply, is a bloody triumph in every way.
It must be hard (and as a man who writes myself, I can really feel this) to tell the third story in a series in which the three main characters are on opposing sides in a war and outside the war entirely and yet engineer a plot in which the three interact. I mean, it would be easy enough to do so if you didn’t mind it feeling trite, contrived, implausible and basically fairly poo. And yet for the third time in a row, Kane has done so, and this time best of all, with a looming expectation of doomed meetings swept aside and the result a truly realistic, serendipitous calamity.
The fact that the action takes place in a limited scope lends C.O.W. a tightness that some novels lack. Though it takes place over two years and the time stretches on at points, the geographical limits (all within the Island of Sicily and perhaps 3 places thereon) provides a very strong, tight situation.
Kane has clearly taken some of the most famous moments in Roman history into this novel, but more than that, he has visited their sites, lived their lives and felt the atmosphere there and this shows through in the work. It is full of life, colour, vigour and stunning realism. Whether it is military action, civilian sacrifice, base cunning, or noble honour, they are all displayed with real understanding.
Highlights for me include…
No spoiler here, I reckon. The moment you know it’s Punic Wars and Sicily (which is very early in the book) you will expect the siege of Syracuse. This is one of the most famous of all Roman military engagements, and involved some of the most outlandish and astounding actions. And you will devour the first assault hungrily.
The action in Enna is perhaps some of the most poignant and harrowing work I’ve ever read. It shows how deeply Kane can make you feel for even a passing character.
And the last section of the book? Well, I won’t go into spoiler details, but it rivals Doug Jackson’s treatment of the defence of Colchester in Hero of Rome, and that remains one of my most powerful scenes of any book. The tense, fraught excitement it builds is second only to the continual flip-flopping between hope and despair, hope and despair, hope and despair. Really it has to be read to be experienced, so that alone is a reason to buy.
The characters have grown since book 2, let alone book 1. They are more adult and react appropriately (and Kane as always pulls no damn punches when putting them in situations to elicit such a reaction). But the reappearance of at least one super S.O.B. adds villainy to the tale, and the appearance of at least one new hero adds joy.
In conclusion, Clouds of War is tight, well-written and exciting, full of colour, and realistic and even heartbreaking in places as one could imagine it might be. It is character driven and is a feast to the imagination.
I, for one, cannot wait for book 4.
on 10 March 2014
Ben Kane has done it again, a fantastic read throughout. it ends as well as it begins. the story made me stay up till past midnight most nights. You wont get enough of this book or Bens masterful way of writing. Its both gripping and dramatic which makes you want to know what happens next. When reading this you will experience notions of valour, honour, disloyalty and betrayal all good things when it comes to historical fiction. Its also good to note that Ben Kane trys to get historical accuracy throughout his books so while reading this epic you will also learn. The only disappointing part is that I cant continue with the story, Will have to wait till the next in the series comes out!
on 6 October 2015
Based on Sicily, Hannibal: Clouds of War is the third book in Ben Kane's Hannibal series. After the catastrophic defeat at Cannae, the war in Italy lulls as Rome and Hannibal assess the damage to their armies and plot their next move.
The theater of war shifts to Sicily, where our three heroes become entangled on the island in the Roman effort to capture Syracuse from Hannibal's allies Hippocrates and his brother Epicydes.
Quintus is part of the disgraced Roman army exiled to Sicily and camped around the ancient city of Syracuse. After settling in to the life of a Hastati, Quintus's pride and arrogance get him into trouble with a new Centurion called Pera. Beating him in a horse race, Quintus has watch his back as he has another enemy in his own ranks. However, unlike Marcerio, the new Centurion has substantial power over Quintus's future.
Gaining glory in the war against Rome and proving he is the most mature of his two brothers, Hanno is handpicked by Hannibal for a secret and deadly mission. Hannibal wants Hanno to travel to Syracuse and advise the two sibling dictators ruling there to ensure that the city does not fall into Roman hands. However, spying does not come easily to Hanno and he must balance the two different personalities of the brothers to ensure that chaos does not arise in the Syracusian defence.
Aurelia is the matriarch of her own household and busies herself with the care of her young son Publius. Although her marriage to Melito is loveless, it nevertheless has been successful.
However, when news reaches her that Melito has been injured in the city of Rhegium, Aurelia rushes to be at her husband's side. She must make the journey through perilous waters and risk the wrath of the Carthaginian navy and the Sicilian slavers if her vessel is caught.
I have to admit that this book has been my least favourite in the series so far. I get a feeling that this was a sort of 'filler' novel in the series between the more famous battles Hannibal faces in Italy. This is because it was based around the siege of Syracuse, in which for a long time nothing really happens. Kane tries to make up for this by adding the intrigue of Quintus's enemy Pera and by trying to make Hanno an undercover spy; even though he doesn't seem to do much spying!
I understand that this lull was true in history as the war moved to Sicily, with Hannibal hoping to ensure an easy route through the Mediterranean for his troops and supplies. However, I felt like this book was purely written to set up something huge to come in the next couple of novels, such as the war in Hispania and Hannibal's eventual defeat (sorry for spoilers).
Nevertheless, as the saying goes 'the devil's in the detail' and as always Kane packs this novel with historical depth and description. I especially like this in his explanation of the Syracusian defences and of Archimedes’s machines of war. The deadly crossbows, catapults and sea hooks give a sense of the formidable task the Legionaries faced when scaling Syracuse's walls, whilst also being historically accurate which I especially liked!
As I said above, this was my least favourite book in the series so far. However, that isn't to say it's a bad novel. The detail was amazing and the sub plots of Quintus and Centurion Pera did add a lot to this novel. Plus the story of the massacre of Enna was very entertaining. Nevertheless, it still felt that this book was a filler novel for later books in the series. If Kane had released it as a standalone story with different characters I think I would have enjoy it more. But in this series it didn't stand up to the first two novels (because they were so good!).
For more epic book reviews search adam-p-reviews
on 27 June 2014
In 213, Rome is at war with Carthage and the town of Syracuse in Sicily is under siege. Outside the walls is Quintus, a brave servant of Rome and equestrian masquerading as infantry. Sent by Hannibal to help the rebels is Hanno, old friend of Quintus but on a mission to bring death to all Romans. As if loyalties could not be divided enough, Aurelia, Quintus’ sister and Hanno’s love from the past, becomes a captive in the besieged city.
Kane is already well-known as a writer who delivers on immersing the reader in his world and this book did not disappoint. His fight and battle scenes, whether on land or sea, are visceral and compelling. While I expected to (and was) engrossed in Quintus’ and Hanno’s struggle, Aurelia’s story was even more compelling for me. Much historical fiction of this type consigns women to the background at most. But Aurelia’s challenges are just as terrifying and heart breaking (I will not risk spoilers by detailing what they are). As one would expect from Kane, they reflect the experiences of what many women from this period in history would have gone through and are all the more powerful for that.
Enough questions remain to draw the reader into the next chapter in their lives and it’s one I’ll be reading. Existing Kane fans won’t be disappointed and this book deserves to increase that following.
Note: I received a free review copy of this book via the Historical Novel Society. This review (or an edited version) has appeared in the Historical Novels Review. My review is my independent opinion.
on 1 December 2014
I enjoyed the first Hannibal and on the strength of that bought the next two. The second I found rather underwhelming so it was with some trepidation that I moved on to the third. I'm about 2/3 rds through now and I'm not convinced I can be bothered to finish it. I keep waiting for something to happen that I find vaguely interesting and so far nothing has. I really couldn't care less about whetrher Hanno cops off with Aurelia or not and if he is he's taking an awful long time about it. Its all rather dull I'm afraid.
on 29 September 2015
Now that all three of these books have been released, they are a seriously good read for anyone who loves an epic story which, unusually, isn't written from the perspective of a hero such as Hannibal or Scipio.
Rather than give any of the story away, I'd definitely recommend you grab all three parts of this trilogy, settle down and blast your way through a finely written, exciting and meticulously researched set of books which are truly 'unputdownable'. Thanks again to Mr Kane for producing a superb trilogy.
on 9 December 2014
The third part of the Hannibal saga doesn't match up to the preceding two. It is lazily written, full of very short sentences and poor dialogue, and with more holes in the often completely unbelievable storyline than a sieve. Hannibal is incidental to the story - a cat called Hannibal plays as big a part as the Carthaginian General. I've previously enjoyed all of Ben Kane's books, but he has let his standards slip badly with this one.