The Silver Eagle by Ben Kane

Book Review by Aurelia

The Silver Eagle, by Ben Kane, is the second novel in the Forgotten Legion trilogy. It picks up right where the previous novel left off and follows the fortunes of the main cast of characters introduced to us in the first instalment.

The opening chapter takes us to Margiana, a desolate outpost on the eastern border of the Parthian Empire. The three friends Romulus, Tarquinius and Brennus are marched there with another ten thousand legionaries who survived a brutal defeat while fighting the Parthians under General Marcus Licinius Crassus at Carrhae. Romulus and Brennus, former gladiators and runaway slaves, and Tarquinius, a mysterious Etruscan haruspex, have faced countless hardships together becoming, in the process, inseparable friends and comrades-in-arms. They all dream of making their way back to Rome one day.

Meanwhile, back in the Italian peninsula, Romulusís twin sister Fabiola is now the mistress of a latifundium near Pompeii. Formerly a slave prostitute at the Lupanar, one of Romeís most exclusive brothels, Fabiola eventually receives her manumission through the hands of her lover Decimus Brutus, a wealthy career soldier serving under Julius Caesar. Although thousands of miles apart, the twins live for the day when they will be at long last reunited and take revenge against the mystery nobleman who raped their mother when she was a young slave running errands for her Master.

And so the storyline alternates between East and West as the main characters struggle for their survival against extreme odds. The three friends not only live in an inhospitable environment but are also surrounded by enemies within their barracks and in the surrounding countryside of Margiana and further afield. Fabiola is relentlessly pursued by a gang of fugitivarii, or slave catchers, as she travels from the Bay of Naples to a Rome beset by violent street riots as Milo and Clodius, backed by Pompey and Caesar respectively, manipulate the city mobs to serve their own political ends, to a devastated Gaul in the aftermath of Caesarís ultimate victory over Vercingetorix.

Ben Kane skilfully weaves together plots of violence and betrayal, loyalty and friendship where the action never lets up. The reader is never given a chance to get too comfortable as the cast of characters is forced to overcome one obstacle after the other. This, together with rich descriptions of people, places and events, makes for a very entertaining read.

Mr. Kane seems to maintain here the same high level of historical research as in the previous novel The Forgotten Legion. Battles and battle gear are described in detail and give away the authorís special interest in military history. The graphic and oftentimes gory descriptions of violence such as crucifixions and other forms punishments effectively reflect the brutality of the times. So if you happen to be a sensitive reader, a word of warning: this book might not be for you.

On the other hand, those interested in ancient religious practices will find much to keep them occupied. In particular, Mithraism, an old Persian cult widely practised in Rome in the early centuries A.D., features prominently in the story.

Ultimately though, The Silver Eagle just happens to be a pretty good yarn that should appeal to adventure lovers and history buffs alike. The story is fast-paced and the cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter keep the reader yearning for more. I, personally, am looking forward to reading the next instalment in the series. This will be followed by another review, so watch this space!

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Union Jack The Silver Eagle for the UK