A triumph of a novel,
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This review is from: Hannibal: Enemy of Rome (Hannibal 1) (Kindle Edition)Some time ago I read and reviewed (with a very favourable review) Ben's first trilogy - the Forgotten Legion. At the time, those three books, along with a few works by Anthony Riches, Douglas Jackson and Simon Scarrow, very much set the standard for Roman historical fiction. Certain scenes from those books have stayed with me, no matter how much other Roman fiction I read (and that is most of what I read). I consider a book that still has an effect on the reader a long time after reading to be a rousing success.
Move on one book, and up a thousand notches.
Hannibal took me by surprise. I have an interest in all Roman history, but my knowledge of the Punic war period is considerably less than other eras. I did understand beforehand that at this point the Roman army was more of a Graeco-Etruscan force than the military machine the world generally remembers, drawn from citizen volunteers rather than a standing force. I knew (as does everyone) about the crossing of the Alps. Beyond that, my knowledge of the conflicts and the peoples is almost entirely drawn from holiday visits to Spain, Italy and Tunisia. I was unsure what to expect with the book, as I really didn't know how much of an enthralling tale Ben could spin out of the bare bones of what I knew.
The upshot is that, despite the title of this book, the tale is not about Hannibal. Oh, it's about that campaign, and Hannibal is in it, even to the point of being an important supporting character. But it is not about him. Equally, those events from the sacking of Saguntum, through the crossing of the Alps and the first conflicts in Northern Italy, are the central events around which the story hinges, but they are not the story itself.
The story is actually the tale of a Carthaginian nobleman and his three sons, and a Roman/Oscan family from near Capua. It is a heart-wrenching tale of friends and enemies experiencing the build-up to, and beginnings of, a war between their peoples, and the effects this has on their lives and relationships. Don't get me wrong: this is no family saga of the little-old-lady variety, and includes just the right amount of warfare, intrigue, danger and adventure to make it a page-turner in every respect, but it has the refreshing aspect of being a family saga as well - something I've not seen done well in ancient novels before.
In fact, as I think about it, the only book I can use to compare is Guy Gavriel Kay's `Lions of Al-Rassan' (and I consider this a high complement, since GGK has been my favourite writer since my teens.) There is a similar doom between the books, looking at friends separated by a gulf of nationality and fated to meet in those most unhappy of circumstances.
Essentially, I loved Hannibal and rank it up with my faves now. I think it has seen Ben's writing take on a whole new strength and its particular draw for me is his depth of character and family on both sides, the realism of the people and the sympathy and empathy the reader cannot help but feel. Having read this I am now champing at the bit for the two Spartacus novels (one of which is waiting on my shelf and the other is released shortly.)
Bravo Ben. Hannibal 2 now eagerly awaited.