Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book Review: The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold - Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.

The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.

My Review

4 Stars

The Forgotten Legion, the first book in Ben Kane's Forgotten Legion trilogy, is a character-driven novel set in Ancient Rome during the 1st century BC.   With the political machinations and rivalries of Ancient Rome serving as background, Kane brings to life the stories of the novel's four principal characters:  Romulus and Fabiola, twins born into slavery but separated at age thirteen when Romulus is sold to a gladiator school and Fabiola to a brothel; Brennus, a Gaul warrior whose entire tribe was killed by the Romans but who escapes death himself to become one of Rome's greatest gladiators; and the Etruscan Haruspex Tarquinius, the last in a long line of Etruscan soothsayers who is determined not to let Rome destroy him or the legacy of his people.  While the stories of the main characters are seemingly unconnected at the outset of the novel, fate first brings Romulus and Brennus together as members of Rome's illustrious Ludus Magnus gladiatorial school, and then joins  them with Tarquinius as members of Crassus' army that unsuccessfully attempts to invade Parthia.  By the novel's end, all three men find themselves farther from Rome than they ever thought possible as members of the 'forgotten legion.'   Meanwhile, back in Rome, Fabiola vows to make the most of her situation and becomes one of Rome's most sought after prostitutes.  She wins the favour of Marcus Brutus and never gives up hope of finding her brother or gaining her freedom.

The Forgotten Legion is a novel sure to appeal to readers interested in historical fiction set in ancient Rome.   While the more violent components of the novel's narrative are, at times, graphic, these scenes serve to give the novel an authentic feel.   Life in ancient Rome was brutal and violent, especially for slaves, members of the lower classes and non-Roman citizens.   The novel effectively conveys this.  Although not central to the overall story, The Forgotten Legion also successfully conveys the rampant corruption and ruthlessness that defined politics of this era, thereby providing much needed background.    While I enjoyed this background, it is the characters themselves that make this story such a great read.   Kane has created a memorable cast of characters and whether they be hero or villain, central to the story or just those on its periphery, I was genuinely interested in all of them.  As a result, I'm very much looking forward to finding out what's next for each of them. 

The story started in The Forgotten Legion continues in The Silver Eagle

Note: This novel comes from my own personnel collection.