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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 August 2012
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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 August 2012
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)

Spartacus
1. The Gladiator (2012)
2. Rebellion (2012)

Hannibal
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.

(Parm)

Book Description

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

GLORY
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?

VENGEANCE
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?

WAR
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
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on 6 June 2016
Great sequel. After the first victories this second book becomes more personal, the struggle of Spartacus within his own army with the Gauls, with his wife Ariadne and with spies. You can feel that the book will result in a disastrous ending and although the fate of Spartacus is well known, you keep on reading till the last page.
Lots of cruelty, betrayal and bloody battlefield gives you a great insight in how hard those times were for most men.
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on 25 November 2015
Fabulous conclusion to the Spartacus story. I read this book in a few days unable to put it down and looking for time to devour more pages. I headed towards the finale with a fear of dread, but came away fully content as Ben expertly handled the conclusion. Brilliant author, simply cannot get enough of his books at the moment.
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VINE VOICEon 1 January 2015
As always, Ben Kane nails ancient Rome, and this book is the follow up to the first Spartacus book, and the way Mr. Kane intertwines recorded history (there is not much on Spartacus) with his own take on this former slave who almost brings Rome to her knees is fantastic. I had the honour of meeting Ben Kane last October and we had a very useful chat about his books. Roll on the next Roman adventure, which, he informed me, is coming out later this year.
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on 19 January 2015
Good follow on book by Ben Kane from Spartacus 1. Full of battle scenes in very gory detail of the many battles fought against
the Roman legions. A sympathetic portrayal of Spartacus as a human being not just as a legend. The descriptions of the crucified slave army lining the Via Appia after the major defeat of Spartacus was second to none. With the gory image of Crassus the Roman commander watching most of the crucifixions taking place with callous satisfaction a nice touch.
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on 9 March 2016
Ben Kane has penned a fine sequel to Spartacus the Gladiator. Not only is the storyline persuasive, but the attention to detail is most impressive. The reader is left to ponder over what might have been for Spartacus , had he made different decisions, and over the immanity of his achievements in forging such an effective and threatening thorn in the side of the Roman State and status quo.
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on 25 April 2013
Having read the first Spartacus book by Ben Kane I just had to immediately read book 2 and I was not disappointed! As with the first book there is a great mix of real history and fiction. You really feel that you get to know and understand all the characters and I found myself desperately wanting things to turn out differently for Spartacus et al even though history had already written that ending! A great action adventure with many ups and downs and a must for anyone with a fascination of the Romans and Roman history; you will not be disappointed!
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on 10 December 2012
Good take the latter half of Spartacus' adventures having escaped from the Gladiator ludus. Kane is a competent author and his story telling narrative keeps the reader engrossed.

In this book he does skip a couple of the battles and 'fast forwards' past them - if you like having your war scenes detailed then this may cause you an annoyance however it wasn't for me. He saves his battlefield depictions for the final confrontation with Crassus which is done so at a level I've come to expect from the author.

Would recommend to any fans of Scarrow or Anthony Riches.
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