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Having read and enjoyed Ben Kane's novel Spartacus the Gladiator and not yet having purchased the second book Spartacus Rebellion as I am tight and waiting for the paper back edition, I was eager to see if any other of his publications matched up to the quality of Spartacus. Following a little research I found the Forgotten Legion trilogy and figured the first book of the series entitled The Forgotten Legion would be as good a place as any to start.
The plot of The Forgotten Legion is centred around four main characters, Tarquinius, Brennus, Romulus, and Fabiola. The story starts setting the background of these four characters, Tarquinius the sooth-sayer or fortune reader seeking revenge after the murder of one of his closest friends by the Roman Legions, Fabiola and Romulus are twins sold as youths by their master for disobediance into a brothel and gladiator school (ludus), which is where Romulus meets Brennus the gladiator. The story really begins when by a series of chance events Romulus and Brennus end up fleeing the ludus and meeting Tarquinius shortly after signing up for the army to fight for the Roman Legions on the borders of the Roman Empire, being former slaves as gladiators where they were not permitted to join the Legions however this risk was far outweighed by the punishment that would be metered out to them should they return to the ludus.
Fabiola who was sold to a brothel catering for the high society in Rome at age 13 as her brother was being sold to the ludus is intent on revenge to her former master for the job she was sold into, and breaking up their family, but the main plot as far as Fabiola is concerned is the burning hatred and need for revenge against hers and Romulus' father who left her mother pregnant after raping her. Fabiola soon has Brutus under her spell through her work in the brothel, a rich and powerful man with high status in the Roman Empire and she will use him in whichever way she sees fit.
Overall a great storyline that flows with such ease its easy to get carried away and absorbed in the rich descriptions of the Roman Empire and the everthing that made it click from the dingy, grimy outskirts of the city, to the rich and impressive city centre with great shrines and buildings. Everthing that surrounded the Romans from fighting in gory detail, to what religion meant to them is covered here not in a way you may expect but definitely easily taken in.
I personally enjoyed every page of this book in case you hadn't already guessed and only took a little over 3 days to read the 600 pages this book contains. With blood, gore, friendship, love and religion all in just the right amount, coupled with a whole heap of historically correct details thrown in for good measure amoungst the twists and turns every page is well worth the paper it is written on. This is definitely one I would recommend picking up and having a read of, if you enjoy this one check out Ben Kanes other books they are all of a comparable great standard of writing and all as historically correct as a fictional history novel gets.
Since the release of ''Gladiator'', Roman life has been a growth industry in the entertainment world, with even ''Doctor Who'' visiting Pompeii at one point. The last time I visited Roman times in written form was when I was still doing Latin at school. Fortunately, Ben Kane's ''The Forgotten Legion'' is far more engrossing than school ever was.
In 70 B. C., the Roman Empire is spreading through Europe. In Gaul, a warrior is captured after his village is destroyed and is taken back to Rome as a gladiator. In Northern Italy, a haruspex is betrayed by a man looking for fortune and his young apprentice is forced to flee to avoid death. In Rome itself, a young slave is raped by an important politician late one night.
Fourteen years later, the Gaulish prisoner Brennus has become famed for his abilities in the arena. Tarquinius, the haruspex's apprentice is looking for revenge on the man who betrayed his mentor and also trying to avoid being killed as a deserter from the legions. The young slave is now a mother of teenage twins, Romulus and Fabiola, who are sold by a greedy master to a gladiator school and a whorehouse respectively.
The story follows these four as they seek revenge, try to improve their situation and battle just to stay alive. The political machinations of pre-Empire Rome are in evidence, although they mostly take a back seat to life in the gladiatorial arena and the legions. Most of the political intrigue involves Fabiola trying to gain information about her brother and her battle for supremacy in the whorehouse, with only brief mentions of the battle for power in the senate. This helps to keep the pace high, but also allows for a lot of switching between characters that helps keep the reader interested.
Kane is an expert at keeping the story flowing and the pace high. Given my limited knowledge of Roman life, particularly in the days when Rome was still a republic, I can't be sure how accurate the historical background is. But given the time period, the way he moves his characters around and the situations he places them in, it does feel quite natural. Scholars may point out inaccuracies and may lose some of their enjoyment in this knowledge, but without that I found it a fantastic read.
As well as great pacing, Kane writes his characters very well. Although they are described in slightly vague terms, they all have wonderfully distinct personalities. Brennus is born to kill, Fabiola determined to succeed at any cost, Romulua frustrated by his position in life and Tarquinius accepting as he knows it's all pre-destined. Kane's physical descriptions may not allow you to pick them out of a line up, but there's never any danger of getting their personalities mixed up.
Kane separates his heroes from his villains very well, too. Whilst many of us may find killing for entertainment unpleasant, the politicians are even more so. They believe themselves above the common people and the arrogance this gives them is used to excuse all sorts of corruption and distasteful behaviour. Killing for a living may be bad, but Kane ensures that we see that being a politician is even worse.
The one point at which Kane becomes most descriptive is in battle. Whether in the midst of a war or fighting one on one in the arena, he goes into great detail. It is so well and so lovingly written that you can almost see the droplets of blood hit the ground and feel every injury a fighter suffers. In a story that Kane has done well to make feel real, the screams and bloodshed of battle seem even more so. This may not suit the weak of stomach, but it's wonderful writing for the rest of us.
The one aspect I felt let the story down was the ending. Whilst I realise this book is merely the first in a series, I found the ending rather abrupt; it didn't so much end as just stop. I know there is more to come, but the characters seemed stranded in mid-flow and it was terribly frustrating. Kane had to pause somewhere, but the point at which that happened didn't feel right. Fortunately, what had gone before more than made up for this, but I put the book down feeling slightly disappointed, which was a pity and a little unfair considering how much I enjoyed it.
What is evident is that there is a long way to go for all the characters. If future parts are as compelling and well written in terms of both characters and story, they will be unmissable. No matter what the fates have in store for these characters, this is one legion that won't be forgotten by anyone who encounters it. With prices starting from as little as 99 pence on eBay, I would recommend an encounter as soon as you get the opportunity.