I received this book through a First Reads giveaway.
I entered the giveaway because: I like historical fiction, I like the Roman era, and I’ve been enthused about the story of Spartacus lately due to the excellent TV show. I was interested in seeing another take on the story.
I’ll start with the good. Ben Kane writes action scenes, violence, and military tactics very well. This sort of thing, on the written page, often bores me; I often have trouble picturing exactly what’s happening or I just don’t find it intriguing. This was not the case here. Every fight (and there are many) comes vividly to life; you can picture every blood splatter and move.
Other than that, the writing’s not amazing. The characters felt rather flat, like they were just being put through the historical moves of what is known (or presumed) of the story. The one really “new” addition is that of the character of Carbo, a young Roman whose family has fallen on hard times, who sells himself into slavery at the ludus where Spartacus is also imprisoned, and becomes one of Spartacus’ men. But overall, I found myself asking – “Why another version of Spartacus’ story? What new does this add?”
I do not object to violence against women occurring in books. I am perfectly aware, as the author tells us in this book in pretty much every chapter, that rape is a part of war. However, there is not a single woman in this book – not even one glimpsed in passing, or obliquely referred to – who is not a rape victim, a whore, or both. It’s not just that this is a book mainly about men, there are plenty of rape victims and whores hereabouts. It began to bother me a bit about half way through – and then another female character was raped, to death this time. Basically, women show up in this book to get raped, and then men can be affected by that (but not TOO affected). Oh, there’s one woman that can be a mystic, inspiring priestess when she’s not busy getting raped. But there are no female characters in this book who are there to have any opinions, agency, or to do anything except be victims. It gets tiresome. And no, the story, time period, and setting does NOT demand this. (See: the Spartacus TV show, or the probably-thousands of historical novels set in Roman times that feature interesting, well-rounded characters of differing genders.)
On top of that… the story ends in the middle. Yes, there’s to be a sequel. So it just kind of fizzled out at an unexpected juncture. Rather unsatisfying.