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Having read Spartacus - The Gladiator I was at a loss after I had finished as Ben Kane hadn't actually published the second half of Spartacus' story and I had thoroughly enjoyed the first book. So after finding and reading a few more of his historical fiction stories to fill the gap I actually went out and bought Spartacus - Rebellion the day it was released when I had been determined that I was going to wait until a paperback version was available; so eager was I to get my hands on a copy.
I was actually expecting to be disappointed when I went to try and purchase this book, by means of being priced out as I usually am by the usual £15 or so price tag associated with hardbacks. Fortunately I ended up picking up one of the last copies in my local supermarket on offer for just £9.
If you haven't read the first book of Spartacus' story then there may well be some spoilers in here and you may want to check out my review of Spartacus - Gladiator to see if would enjoy this series of books.
At the end of Spartacus Gladiator we leave the slave army as they have reached an important part of their journey across Italy, with a good fraction of their numbers having left with Crixus who played a major part in convincing his people to take part in the original uprising that started the rebellion. With Crixus' army roaming Italy raping and pillaging taking what they see as rightfully theirs and Spartacus' army still with great numbers has the choice of crossing the Alps from Italy into Trans-Alpine Gaul or staying to fight, survive and make a foothold for themselves in Italy itself.
Spartacus Rebellion kicks straight off into the action following the fate of Crixus and his men as they fight against the Roman Legions, making for a blood-thirsty and intense beginning to the book. Soon after Spartacus' choices are pretty much made for him by his men, whichever road he takes the Romans will be hunting him down in full force. The Romans are intent on the defeat and humiliation of Spartacus and his men after the multiple embarrassments that they have caused the Roman Empire, caused by multiple defeats despite their far superior numbers, and fully trained forces. This is a major insult and doesn't sit well as they feel Spartacus should have been far easier to deal with than Spartacus - Gladiator actually proved him to be.
Spartacus' love life is also scrutinized more closely in this book and follows the story of Ariadne closely and gives a great insight to the life of not only her but the other women, as well as the injured left behind when the army goes into battle. This makes for a refreshing change of pace to the gory blood filled scenes however I was always keen to keep reading in order to get to these action packed pieces of the book.
Though many may know the legend of Spartacus and his ultimate fate, to expand any more on the plot than this would be to risk major spoilers and ruin a few surprises. The plot builds brilliantly on the great work of the first half of Spartacus' story, with the characters tying in well not only with each other's stories throughout the book but also historical fact where possible. There is a pretty even split throughout between the story from the Roman Empire's side and obviously Spartacus' and his slave army. This gives a great insight to a great deal of Roman Life, from the lifestyle of the rich and poor in Rome, to the Legionaries on the battlefield, in comparison to the living and fighting conditions of the slave army and those still enslaved by the Romans.
There really is no slow point written into the plot at all with the plot keeping me reading with interest and intrigue as to how Ben Kane was going to spin the ending despite the obvious outcome. Once the story has actually run its course and the plot has come to its end Ben Kane actually gives a chapter to explaining which parts of Spartacus' story he has either adapted to make the story flow better, and which characters are fictional. Given the fact that there is not a lot Ben Kane changes to his advantage as he reveals very little is known about Spartacus giving a him a good reign with his artistic license however everything smoothes together to deliver a great factual and believable story.
I feel that Spartacus - Rebellion has done a brilliant job of matching up to the expectations that I had of it after reading Gladiator, and didn't disappoint in the slightest as many sequel titles do. This is very possibly better than the first book but only due to the buildup work done in the first title to leave Spartacus - Rebellion to start with the action and not let up right until the very last page.
Once again Ben Kane has managed to build what I would imagine to be an accurate world of the times with realistic battle scenes that make it very easy to imagine what it must have been like to have been there. The book also gives a great cross section of Roman civilization with the vivid descriptions, from Rome itself to the great estates that surrounded it and all that went into running it. People's livings are explored and minor details included in many places but never detracting attention or quality from the main plot or storyline.
The main characters on both sides of the story are really well written with great profiles which lead the reader to both like and loath them as well as sympathize with their struggles and ordeals. The main characters alone add great depth to the story while the smaller roles played by other seemingly non-important characters still manage to add a great quality to the book giving it a well rounded feeling with every page bursting at the seams with rich descriptions and intense feelings.
Overall Spartacus - Rebellion makes for an easy but far from patronizing read with the only difficult bit being to put it down even after an hour or so when I really know I should be doing something else. I was more than impressed by the way that Ben Kane has written this and followed the original publication and I will most definitely be re-reading both of these books at some point in the pretty near future.
If asked at the moment to recommend a book in the historical fiction genre my mind would automatically jump to Ben Kane's Spartacus books, they are definitely a couple of books that I would have no problem in recommending with confidence as I'm sure even someone just picking this book up out of curiosity would be able to read it cover to cover even if it wasn't even quite their thing.
A definite 5/5 stars from me not only a great sequel but stands up well against Ben Kane's other publications such as the Forgotten Legion Trilogy, and Hannibal which all are also great books in their own right. Spartacus - Rebellion has continued to stretch the mould and takes its place as one my favorite books along with Spartacus - Gladiator.
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