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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Just Finished Reading: The Silver Eagle by Ben Kane (FP: 2009)

Eastern Margiana, 52 BC. More than two years after the disastrous battle of Carrhae the remnants of the Forgotten Legion are fighting on the border of Parthian territory. Officered by Parthians they have a life ahead of them or servitude, fighting wild tribes and, if the gods allow, dying in bed. The gods, however, have other ideas for the trio of friends Brennus of Gaul, Tarquinius the Etruscan soothsay and mystic and Romulus, ex-slave, ex-gladiator and bastard son of a Roman noble. Their ultimate aim is to return to Rome to fulfil prophecy, find the twin sister of Romulus and the get revenge on the man who started them on their journey beyond the edges of the known world. Meanwhile, in Rome itself, Fabiola has managed to work her way into the life (and bed) of a rich and powerful man on the rise – Brutus, good friend of the controversial and powerful Julius Caesar. But with both Brutus and Caesar in Gaul putting down a massive barbarian uprising she is vulnerable to Caesar’s many enemies keen to get at him in any way they can – even if it’s trough his friends courtesan. With the Republic beginning to fall apart into vicious Civil War the main drive for everyone is to survive the coming storm on the side of the winners.

After enjoying Kane’s previous book in the series I was quite looking forward to this. I haven’t ‘visited’ Ancient Rome for a while and was starting to miss the place. Of course most of the book took place outside of Rome, indeed outside of the Empire, but the point stands. With so many Roman historical novels around it’s difficult to mark yourself out from the crowd. Kane has an interesting solution, it seems to me anyway, to that dilemma. Rather than focusing on the glory and grandeur of the Empire he looks instead to Rome’s enemies and its warts and all underbelly. This is not the Rome of streets paved with gold but instead they are paved with shit and the blood of the poor, beggars and thieves. This is the Rome of violent gangs, squabbling politicians out primarily to make money and focused above all else in gaining power. This Rome is not a place to be admired but one to be avoided and, because of that, probably much closer to the truth of things. This is a Republic, in the process of becoming an Empire, most definitely not for the faint hearted or the easily shocked. It was, I thought, all the more interesting for that and was superior to the whitewashed sanitised version of things we’re more used to. Populated with diverse, if generally unbelievable, characters this was a fun (if rather bloody) romp through the final years of the Republic. Interwoven with real events – though mostly ‘off camera’ – hearing about battles via conversations in taverns often hundreds of miles away and months after the events themselves we are intermittently brought up to date with world events. This did get a little annoying after a while and slowed the plot to a crawl at times. Worse, I thought, was the sense of a plot driven by the gods (and real history) that managed to reduce any tension to a bare minimum. It soon became obvious that the main characters were almost immune to the arrows flying everywhere so both risk and menace where kept too low. Coupled with a cliff hanger every three chapters or so, before switching to the second storyline which ended with a similar cliff hanger before going back to the first cliff and resolving things repeating the process multiple times it did start to think that the author was following a formula far too rigidly. Saying all that the story itself was still entertaining and the set pieces, particularly the battles, well done. Not the greatest historical novel (or Roman novel) I’ve ever read but reasonable overall.


Brian Joseph said...

This does sounds entertaining. I can see how this would work well as a series. Too bad there were so many flaws.

The actual history of this period is also very interesting. I read read a little about it but I want to know more.

Mudpuddle said...

with a little imagination, all this can be seen in Gibbon; i guess i'm being too elitist, here, but still... one i greatly enjoyed, was "The Lost Legion" by H. Warner Munn... it also had to do with a group of Romans condemned to travel east forever... it had to be fairly good, as i still remember it...

Stephen said...

This is the author who principally writes about Rome's 'enemies', right? I think you mentioned him when I was hunting for historical fiction set in Persia..

CyberKitten said...

@ Brian: The book is flawed but not fatally so. There is still much to recommend it despite it's sometimes clunky nature. The historical period is endless fascinating and forms a good chunk of our culture even today. Much more on Rome (and Greece) to come.

@ Mudpuddle: I have 'Decline and Fall' (or at least the edited version for comparatively easy consumption) in one of my non-fictions piles along with some overviews of Rome. It seems to be coming back into fashion again.

@ Stephen: Yes, he does seem to concentrate on Rome's (many) enemies for some reason. He has at least 2 series of these books covering Hannibal and Spartacus. I have the first few books in both series plus the last book in this trilogy - so definitely more Roman fiction to come!