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I tend to welcome the end of a Ben Kane novel only when I know there is another one close behind it. I never want them to end, but having the next novel on my bedside table is about the only thing that makes the end of a Ben Kane novel bearable. I was fortunate enough to read "Spartacus the Gladiator" relatively late, which meant when I reached the end that promised more, I could move straight onto ''Spartacus: Rebellion''
Spartacus has led his group of slaves to victory after victory over the Roman legions. As he predicted, however, the Romans will never take this lying down and for every victory he wins, there is another battle to be fought. Spartacus has a plan to lead his army out of Italy over the Alps, but to avoid a split in his army, led by two Gaulish commanders, he abandons this plan to turn South into Italy, thinking he can maybe move his army to Sicily.
Meanwhile, in Rome, a massively ambitious senator is pushing to be the one to lead the next army against Spartacus. Furious at not being recognised for previous victories in battle and not being thought of as a great soldier as well as a great orator, Marcus Crassus uses his great wealth to build an army greater than anything Spartacus has faced before. After a failed assassination attempt on him by Spartacus and Carbo, it becomes personal, not just for the glory of Rome.
Whilst no less effective, ''Spartacus: Rebellion'' is a completely different book to its predecessor. Whereas "Spartacus the Gladiator" was a little like a bull, with a headlong charge through events, this is more like a hunting feline, occasionally creeping along quietly, but ready to pounce at any time. As is Kane's way, just when you're getting used to the book's hunting behaviour, that's when it bursts into action and, like a lion's prey, things can get a little messy.
Whereas the first book was almost entirely focussed on Spartacus, there is a greater cast of characters here. Castus and Gannicus, the two Gauls who are sick of following Spartacus' orders, come more to the fore, as does his trusted soldier, Carbo. But it is the rise to prominence in these pages of Crassus that really makes this book what it is. He provides the perfect foil to Spartacus, in character as well as in war and it's obvious very early on which side the reader is intended to prefer, with the geniality and ease of command that Spartacus has settling much easier into the mind than Crassus oily, insincere nature and much harsher treatment of his troops.
This contrast makes the character development far more distinct from the earlier novel as well. Such is Kane's expertise at writing emotions the reader can feel, when Spartacus feels the pressure of his command, the reader also feels it. His desperation and the acts this leads him to are obvious in every word and I could understand his reactions, whether I liked them or not. As Crassus' arrogance increased with every success, so I sided with Spartacus and wanted nothing more than to reach inside the pages and punch him in the face, or worse. If I didn't revere books as much as I do, I may have resorted to ripping out the pages that Crassus was on and stamping them into the ground, so hatefully was he written.
The book isn't all about military tactics and Kane retains here the ability to write direct confrontation with such detail the reader can feel it. When Crassus has some of his army take part in an act of decimation, the horror of it is perfectly clear and the imagery so vivid that it is an effort to avoid the physical sickness that affected the soldiers just reading it. An attempted rape on Ariadne by Castus is so well written that her desperation and disgust reach off the page to the extent I wasn't sure whether I should first admire the writing and keep reading or turn away in revulsion of the act.
As I always find with Ben Kane's novels, I was so engrossed in the story than the ending comes as something of a surprise, as I tend to lose track of time and how many pages remain whenever I'm in his world. This time, it's more frustrating than before, as I have no idea what Kane is planning next, or when it will be in my hands and history will come to life for me again. Whatever events the next novel will be about, I have every confidence it will be worth the wait, I just don't want to wait for it. Whilst this book is available for a surprisingly cheap £6.97 for a hardback copy from the Amazon Marketplace, I would suggest you don't wait for this one, either.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously posted under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk