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Bane of Kings reviews the thrilling, historical fiction novel Gladiator, the first novel in the Spartacus Duology by Ben Kane, published by Arrow Books and set in Ancient Rome.
“Gritty, dark, action-packed, Kane drags the reader in and keeps them hooked until the very end.” ~The Founding Fields
After reading Simon Scarrow’s Under the Eagle and loving it, I wanted to explore more historical fiction set during the days of the Roman Empire, and Ben Kane is an author who I’ve been looking to read some stuff by for a while now. So I figured that I might as well start with his latest novel that he has avaliable, and that is Gladiator, the first in the Spartacus duology. If you’re familiar with the legend of Spartacus, then it’ll probably be due to the TV series, which sadly, I haven’t seen – however, if it’s anywhere near as good as Gladiator was, then I will be reading it for sure.
Historically very little is known about Spartacus. We know that he came from Thrace, a land north of Greece, that he once fought in the Roman legions and that, during two fateful years, he led a slave army which nearly brought Rome to its knees.
In Ben Kane’s brilliant novel, we meet Spartacus as he returns to Thrace, ready to settle down after a decade away. But a new king has usurped the throne. Treacherous and violent, he immediately seizes Spartacus and sells him to a Roman slave trader looking for new gladiators.
The odyssey has begun which will see Spartacus become one of the greatest legends of history, the hero of revolutionaries from Karl Marx to Che Guevara, immortalised on screen, and now brought to life in Ben Kane’s great bestseller – a novel which takes the story to its halfway point and is continued in Spartacus: Rebellion.
As I haven’t seen Spartacus on TV yet, the first thing that leapt out to mind when I first read the blurb was Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator, and after all, Maximus (Russell Crowe) and Spartacus do share similarites. Both are ex soldiers who upon their homecoming to Rome/Thrace are betrayed by a corrupt ruler and eventually become Gladiators. However, that’s where the difference ends. Maximus became a slave before a Gladiator, and then he went on to defy the Emperor. However, Spartacus’s story is much bigger than Maximus’, and I’m starting to prefer Spartacus, despite how awesome Gladiator was. Kane has captured the telling of a legend here in his own Gladiator.
Spartacus: The Gladiator’s main strength is the plot. It’s awesome, and what makes it even more awesome is the fact that it’s one of those stories that you couldn’t make up. That’s right, it’s a true story – and as far as I’m aware, there are no historical inaccuracies in Kane’s latest novel. It’s captivating, enthralling and even if you do know the story (for example, those fans of Spartacus or those who have studied Ancient Rome), Kane has created a tale that still manages to create tension and you don’t feel that Spartacus is invincible.
The novel has a strong cast of characters and provides an interesting twist on the legend of Spartacus. Spartacus himself is a strong, charismatic leader who seems to know pretty much everything when it comes to tactics and military encounters, and he’s certainly one to have on your side if you ever think about waging war. He’s also a well developed character and is likable enough to make the reader want to root for him over the Romans. The other characters, although not as memorable as Spartacus still manage to be strong and enthralling, each presenting their own addition to the novel and help make life more complicated for the main character, and help add to the suspense that will hopefully be tied up in the sequel to this novel which I am highly anticipating, Rebellion.
The action is interesting, varied and always bloody, gory and page-turning. You’re thrust into one fight after the other as Spartacus leads his rebel Gladiators against the mighty Roman Legions, and the way that he manages to write the fight scenes are realistic, entertaining and very gritty. You never feel as though Kane is just re-creating a battle that you’ve already read about, and once you’ve finished reading you are left with only wanting more, especially with the tantalizing extract of the sequel that is provided at the end of the book (my copy, anyway), which manages to make August (Book #2′s release month) even further away than it actually is.
The Spartacus Duology by Ben Kane: The Gladiator, Rebellion
More by Ben Kane: The Forgotten Legions, The Silver Eagle, The Road to Rome, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome