The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

Book Review by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

Four slaves of Rome. Bound by destiny. Fighting for honour, freedom, and revenge. This book follows characters from different backgrounds interwoven together. A series of events sees the lives they know torn apart and changed forever.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins born into slavery. Their mother was raped by a mysterious Roman noble. At 13 years old they are separated and sold by their cruel and vindictive master. Romulus is sold to the Ludus Magnus, the most famous gladiatorial school in Rome, and Fabiola to the Lupenar Brothel, the home of the most sought after prostitutes in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer whose hatred for Rome holds no bounds. He runs away from his life as a worker on a latifundia owned by a wealthy Roman noble. He seeks his destiny foretold by his teacher, the last haruspex of the Etruscans.

Brennus is a Gaul from the Allobroges tribe. His whole tribe and family are wiped out by the Romans. Brennus is one of the only survivors of the slaughter. Although he welcomes death, the Romans refuse to kill him; instead they capture him and send him off to Rome to be trained for the arena. Due to his sheer size, strength and fighting ability he quickly rises to become one of the most feared and respected gladiators Rome has ever seen.

Destiny brings the three males together. Brennus befriends the young Romulus and teaches him how to fight and defend himself. They get into a few scrapes together and eventually end up escaping from the Ludus Magnus and fleeing from Rome. Along the way they bump into the mysterious Etruscan with an uncanny knack for reading the future. Together they journey south and enlist in the legions of Crassus’ ill fated invasion of Parthia where terror and disaster await.

Ben Kane was born in Kenya, and raised there and in Ireland. After college he traveled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. A life long student of military history, and specifically Roman history, has helped to make The Forgotten Legion into an excellent debut novel.

It’s immediately clear when reading that a lot of research has gone into the writing of this book. Where ever possible Kane uses the correct Latin term and goes into great detail when describing the people and places, and he paints a vivid and sometimes terrifying picture of what life was like in the gladiator schools, brothels and legions of Republican Rome. He pulls no punches in describing the violence, depravity and bloodlust of the arena. Not to mention, there is also the sordid and often degrading but at the same time very profitable life of a slave in one of Rome’s most sought after brothels. Where necessary he uses his artistic license very well and gives an explanation for it in the author's notes at the end of the book.

The highlight of the book for me was the fool hardy and disastrous invasion of Parthia by Crassus. His greed and desire for military glory really comes across. The utter realisation of the fatal mistake he has made resulting in the death of his only son and thousand of Roman soldiers is really well written. Following up, the eventual death of the man himself at the hands of a sadistic Persian priest armed with molten gold really does make for an exciting and stomach churning part of the book.

There have been quite a few of these “swords and sandals” epics released over the past few years, some of them very good and some not so. Probably the most well known exponents of this kind of historical novel are Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden. Their “Eagle” and “Emperor” series, respectively, have been massive hits worldwide and have gone a long way to making the Roman world fashionable again. If Ben Kane continues to produce his novels to this kind of high standard then Mr. Scarrow and Mr. Igulden had better watch out.

At the end of the day, if people see this book for what it is - historical fiction, not fact - and treat it as such, then I’m sure even the most learned of Roman readers will enjoy it immensely. The sequel called The Silver Eagle is due out in June 09. If it’s as good as the first, then it sure to be a success.

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Union Jack Forgotten Legion for the UK