The last instalment in The Forgotten Legion trilogy continues as friends and comrades-in-arms Romulus and Tarquinius seek to return to Italy. The action opens in Alexandria amid the riots against the Roman presence in the city in 48 BC. Having been forced to join the besieged Roman Army, the two friends find themselves in the midst of street clashes between Alexandrian troops and Julius Caesar’s depleted legions, and must once again fight for their lives.
The plot in The Road to Rome unfolds along the same lines as the previous two novels. There is non-stop action as we follow the trials and tribulations of the central characters: Romulus, back into the fold of the Army, his twin sister Fabiola, now a brothel owner in Rome, and the ever wandering Tarquinius. Lovers of military history are once again given the opportunity to revel in the rich descriptions of epic battles and triumphs as Caesar relentlessly pursues his goal of eliminating all resistance to his policies and reforms that will drastically change the course of Roman history.
On a darker note, the reader is also confronted with somewhat less heroic scenes containing gruesome details of rape and murder. Life in Republican Rome was, after all, nothing short of brutal and the degrading realities of the city’s downtrodden population, whether poor citizens or slaves, are well portrayed. Similarly, a dark shadow is cast on the main characters as they continue their quest for revenge of wrongs committed against them in the past.
Fabiola, formerly a prostitute, now in charge of business at the Lupanar, has a one-track mind in her efforts to avenge her mother’s rape at the hands of a Roman nobleman. In fact, this alone seems to be her sole motivation to keep living. She has a knack for manipulating the men in her life in order to achieve her ultimate goal of killing the man she is convinced is her father and does not hesitate to put her own life at risk as a result.
Fabiola’s tormented personality stands in stark contrast with her brother Romulus’s more forgiving nature. Indeed Romulus seems a lot more credible as character, capable of a wider range of emotions that make him more human and likeable to the audience. While he is also eager for revenge, he also realises, when the opportunity finally presents itself, that it cannot bring the satisfaction and closure that he has been hoping for. This radical difference in attitude generates a fair amount of tension between the twins and puts a damper on their long awaited reunification.
Finally, Tarquinius, the mysterious Etruscan haruspex, embarks on a long journey of self-knowledge. However, his guilt over past deeds, which he believes have greatly affected the lives of his friends Romulus and Brennus, ultimately leads him back to the Italian peninsula. And it is once again in Rome that their paths will cross one more time and become inextricably enmeshed in the events leading to that fateful day known as the Ides of March in 44 BC.
The Road to Rome is definitely worth reading, especially if you have enjoyed the previous two novels in the trilogy. Ben Kane achieves a fine balance between the action scenes and the psychological development of the main characters. And although the plot is pretty straight forward, there are enough surprising twists to keep the reader interested and wanting more. The open ending allows the reader to reach his or her own conclusions regarding what happens next. I personally found this to be quite satisfying as it offers us hope that there could be some sort of “happy ending” for the surviving characters. Furthermore, as it is to be expected, the historical background to the story is well researched and a useful map of Eurasia in the first century BC as well as glossary of Latin terms, help the readers to situate themselves in the ancient world. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable read!