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Thanks to his ''Forgotten Legion'' trilogy, Ben Kane has recently bought Roman times to life in me far more than history and Latin lessons at school ever did. Having enjoyed this first trilogy, I've been eagerly awaiting his ''Hannibal'' trilogy, since he told www.theBookbag.co.uk about it when I interviewed him for that website. Finally, the wait is over and ''Hannibal: Enemy of Rome'' is here.
Bored with listening to his father argue with the elders about Hannibal's actions in Iberia, a Carthaginian youngster, Hanno, instead goes fishing with his friend Suni. A storm comes up and they are swept out to sea and captured by pirates. Their fathers suspect they are dead, but instead they are sold into slavery in Italy, Hanno as a household slave and Suni as a gladiator.
Hanno is sold into the household of Fabricius, a Roman solider. He is preparing for war against the Carthaginians, which makes Hanno his enemy. However his son, Quintus, builds a relationship with Hanno. But they are both determined to join up with their respective armies and this puts a strain on their friendship, especially knowing that they could one day meet in battle.
I love Kane's writing this time around, as he follows all the members of both families; those at war and those left behind. It's a larger cast of characters than he has dealt with previously, but the story has a much broader scope as a result and takes things in a different direction. It allows Kane not just to concentrate on battle scenes - which he writes brilliantly, but to explore more psychological regions of war.
The blend of characters really adds to the story here. We get to see war from the point of view of terrified teenagers in Quintus and Hanno, the sadistic Sapho, who enjoys torturing his enemies far too much and the more professional soldiers in Hannibal, Bostar, Fabricius and Malchus, as well as the coward Flaccus. At home, Aurelia and Atia's feelings of missing the ones they love and Agesandros', whose family were killed by the Carthaginians, feelings towards Hanno. It's a wonderfully emotionally textured story.
However, there are still plenty of wonderfully written action scenes. The march through the Alps with Hannibal's army is a wonderful combination of action and emotion. The battle between the Carthaginians and the Vocontii is wonderfully written in terms of the action and then Sapho's retribution on those he captured is vicious in the emotional stakes. It does make things unsettling at times, but as long as you have a strong enough stomach, it's excellent writing.
Whilst this does make for a slower story, Kane's style means that you don't realise this. He switches between characters quite swiftly, always leaving the action poised at a point to encourage you to keep reading so you can get back and the pages fly past. He does the same at the end of the book, meaning that you really don't want to have to wait a year for the next instalment, but forcing you to do so. If there's one thing about Kane's writing that infuriates me, this would be it.
My only minor concern is whether there is enough here to allow the story to continue so powerfully for a whole trilogy. However, Kane has shown with this book that he has adapted and improved in his writing and given his penchant for springing surprises, I suspect he will maintain the story arc very well and leave me wanting more. Certainly, that is what this first book in the new trilogy leaves me wanting. Any book that creates a hole in your life when it ends can only be a very good thing and with prices from as little as £4.44 on the Amazon Marketplace or from £4.50 on eBay, getting in at the start is easily achieved and well worth the outlay.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk