The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
Review by Floresiensis
Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman on his way home from a good night out. At 13 years old, they and their mother are sold: Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution, where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome, and their mother into obscurity and death in the salt mines. Tarquinius is an Etruscan, a warrior and soothsayer, born enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family.He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and of revenge. The lives of these four characters are bound and interwoven in a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and political enmities, but ends far away, where Romulus, Brennus and Tarquinius find themselves fighting against the Parthians and overwhelming odds.
The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane is an excellent book, an example of what an historical fiction book should be. Its pages are full to the brim with history, battles, political intrigue, love and loss all the while featuring characters and locations that are both realistic and vibrant.
In July 2007 The Forgotten Legion caused a bidding war between six of the largest publishing houses. Preface, an imprint of Random House, won and Ben Kane signed a three-book deal. Publishing houses rarely misjudge books; the chances of six of them all making an error of judgment is inconceivable. And so it proved…
Inspired by a solo trip through Central Asia in 1997 in which Kane visited places such as the ruins of Antiocha and Pella (Alexander’s the Great’s birthplace), The Forgotten Legion hits the ground running. From the very first chapter, which is set in Northern Italy in 70BC, we in turn visit Rome, Transalpine Gaul, Parthia and many other wonderful ancient locations. It is important in a book of this type that the reader is able to lose themselves in the settings and from the very beginning this is exactly what happens.
The main characters are Tarquinius, Brennus, Romulus and Fabiola. As already mentioned, they are realistic but also slightly larger than life. For example, Brennus, probably the most memorable of them all is at times reminiscent of a David Gemmell creation, such is his heroic stature and seeming invincibility. All of these characters have been dealt a tough hand by the fates and none has any reason to love Rome but they set about using her to gain the most prized possession of them all, freedom.
The extract below tells of the meeting, for the first time of Tarquinius, Brennus and Romulus
“The stranger unslung his axe and sat down with a sigh. Reaching into the bag, he pulled out a large piece of pork and cut off a few slices with a sharp dagger.
‘Care for some?’
The Gaul’s eyes lit up. ‘Thanks. Don’t mind if I do. I’m Brennus and this is Romulus.’
‘Tarquinius is my name.’
The Forgotten Legion, Chapter 18: Flight
Kane does not give us the romantic view of Rome. While showing it for the impressive creation that it was he also describes in detail the rotten underbelly; the streets of Rome are rife with waste, both food and human and the empire is shown to be a creature that feeds on war and slavery, uncaring of the suffering that it has caused, and continues to cause, to those unfortunate enough to have been conquered by its legions.
There has long been a style of writing that I have liked but never been able to put my finger on exactly what it was. Whilst reading The Forgotten Legion the penny finally dropped; the author often allows us a glimpse into the character’s future. This, you may think, would have a detrimental effect on the narrative by giving away important plot points and so removing tension, but in fact the opposite is achieved. Sentences such as “It was the last time he saw Rome” throw up a thousand and one questions such as - Why? When? Does he die? This was very clever and made for compelling reading.
One of the biggest compliments I can give this book is that its 600+ pages felt like only 300. The Forgotten Legion is a book that has universal appeal; a fascinating, educational and action-packed tale of bravery, suffering and hope set at the height of the Roman Empire. Fantastic entertainment.
Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin, but after that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for ancient history. Now he lives in North Somerset, where he researches, writes and also practices as a small animal vet. The Forgotten Legion is his first novel. For more information please visit www.benkane.net.
Shawn from US
The book is an entertaining easy read, the modern protagonists can be forgiven. But somewhere it needs to mentioned that this is not a stand alone work and a mere chapter in a larger book. Frankly, while entertaining it wasn't worth the read because it ends with literally nothing accomplished. It could haves ended at any point in the last 300 pages and the plot would have been at the exact same point. Thanks for nothing, the writing is not good or the character complex enough to justify reading an undeterminiate number of stories whose only purpose is to go on longer. And to leave this story with absolute no end was thoroughly unsatisfying. Frankly I feel like the author was dishonest not mentioning anywhere on the novel cover that this was a series.
Charl from Johannesburg
This book is like Asterix and Obelix but on crazy steroids!!!
Henk from Netherlands
This is a great book, very much recommended for those who love stories of ancient Rome.
Ab from Netherlands
Absolutely a page turner! Ben Kane is e very talented novellst with great accuracy and very pleasent writing skills, the books are action packed, with enough details and room for the characters to develop. A must read!
Bob from Jamaica
Absolutely exceptional read, I was captivated from the prologue to the very end. The main characters: Brennus, Fabiola, Romus and Tarquinas are all enemies of the Roman empire, and this novel takes us through their journey to survive the brutal nature of it.
John from California
I did not enjoy the book or the writing style. The way the author dumbs everything down, to me it read more like a children's story. If you loved the book fine, but I would liked to have known this before I started reading it.
Phil from Oregon
An awesome book! I loved every single page of it. The sequel is even more riveting. Ignore the first person's comment. This is a great book!
Terry from Uberlandia
The worst historical novel I have ever read, it is awful.
Koen from London
Excellent writting, precise, open and honest novel. I enjoy the mix of stories and characters with the day to day life in Rome and the fallen countries. I read it in one week and am hoping for the second one soon. is it out yet? Also... my first thuoght at the end of the book were... this would make a great movie... in three parts like LOTR. I loved the book. (Hi Koen - the second book is out now and entitled The Silver Eagle - we have reviewed it here - http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Ben-Kane/The-Silver-Eagle.html - Lee)
Paul from Swansea
This was a book I was pleasantly suprised with. The story is excellent and certainly dispels all those glorified opinions of Rome. It is descriptive and has vibrant characters which you journey through time with. A book well worth a read.
Joel from Australia
The book I read before this was actually Caligula from Douglas Jackson; Forgotten legion is definitely a level, or three, above. Gripping story, plenty of depth, multiple diverging and converging story lines... I was honestly hooked within the first chapter… Completely enjoyable read, this one I would hold as comparable to Gemmell (my favourite author)... Quality historical fiction from a more interesting commoner perspective, covering freeman, slaves, gladiators and soldiers... That also has a number of fantasy elements, which I tend to enjoy when mixed into good historical fiction. I look forward to the sequel.
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