Arena by Simon Scarrow and T.J. Andrews – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

Arena

Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, writes a review of Arena by Simon Scarrow, published by Headline Books in the UK, a historical fiction novel that is composed of five individually released eNovellas.

“An awesome read that fans of Simon Scarrow’s previous works and the movie Gladiator should enjoy – Arena reminds readers why Simon Scarrow is right up there with the likes of  Conn Iggulden and Bernard Cornwell for the best writers of historical fiction. This comes highly recommended.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

Ancient Rome provides the setting for the gripping story of the champion gladiator Pavo, trained to kill, and a pawn in the games of the powerful and ambitious.

Pavo’s journey begins when he encounters the Roman soldier Macro, who has been charged with his training. Bonds of friendship develop between the two men, both aware that their fates depend not only on Pavo’s skills in the arena but also on the whims of powerful and ruthless senators. Can Pavo survive to fulfil his most cherished goal – revenge for the murder of his father at the hands of a champion gladiator?

Right now, Conn Iggulden, Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell are my three go-to authors for good historical fiction and each novel that I’ve read by them I’ve enjoyed, as they bring some experience and entertainment to each novel that isn’t always seen in other’s works. Whilst I may prefer Cornwell to Scarrow, the latter author is still one of my favourites when it comes to writing historical fiction, and I’m a massive fan of his Eagle series that got me invested in his work and as a result I’ve enjoyed many non-Eagle novels that he’s written since, including most recently The Sword and the Scimitar, which I read and reviewed last year. This year however sees Scarrow return to the Roman era and write a novel that interestingly, whilst featuring a character from the series, Macro, isn’t billed as an Eagle novel as the author, along with T.J. Andrews, who’s co-writing this book, weaves an interesting tale that explores many key themes as well as telling a compelling storyline that manages to be unpredictable and engrossing.

ArenaWhilst Cato, Macro’s main companion for the majority of the Eagle books, isn’t present in Arena as it’s set before Under the Eagle, the replacement Pavo is more than capable of replacing Cato as a protagonist and does so very well. Pavo and Macro are both interesting and rootable characters, and Scarrow and Andrews manage to flesh them out a bit more as they drives the narrative forward at a strong pace. This once again is a solid novel from the writer that proves that you can still tell a solid book when you’re writing with somebody else (as for example it’s pretty much a given now that anything that James Patterson writes with a co-author is going to be not as good as his original Alex Cross novels) – and it’s very hard to tell when (and if) the writing has changed between the two as the narrative and ongoing plot unfolds.

Arena is a novel that I would have probably have purchased as individual novellas if I’d have known about their releases, but for some reason they completely escaped my notice until this point, and I think that I’m glad I waited for the full novel to be released as like Chris Wraight’s serialized Scars, it seems to be meant for a novel format as opposed to a serialized one – I just don’t think that the serialized format would have given me enough time to invest in the characters to continue the story, even though I am familiar with Macro – but reading this novel as a collective whole proved to be a good thing. It also means that I get to read the whole thing at once, because I could not put Arena down when I was reading it – Andrews and Scarrow did wonders with the pace as it seemed to get quicker and more engaging as the novel went on. It’s great stuff, and what’s more, it proves that Scarrow still manages to contain that strong level of consistency in his novels.

This then, comes certainly recommended. You don’t have to read any of Scarrow’s other works in order to know what goes on here as it’s a great entry point. It’s also something that will please old fans as much as new ones, for Arena still maintains that quality that got readers engaged in the series in the first place. It’s an awesome read, and historical fiction fans won’t want to miss out.

VERDICT: 4/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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