The Lost Legion by Ben Kane
Ben Kane's novel 'The Lost Legion' is a gripping novel set in ancient Rome. Kane writes about the last days of the Roman Republic but with an unusual approach. He chooses his main characters from people on the margins of Roman society, those who inhabit the underbelly of the Republic and provide the essential services to keep the wealthy in a life of luxury. This means that the society they describe is almost as much of a mystery to them as it to the reader of two thousand years later.
Kane opens the book by giving us Tarquinius, a character from the long-conquered Etruscan society, moves swiftly to introduce Brennus a giant of a Gaul and then to Romulus and Fabiola, slave siblings who are sold into two of the most awful worlds of Rome, the brothel and the circus.
Kane chooses to develop different streams of his novel, never an easy task but one which he manages with skill. I never felt I had to go back to re-read what was happening to one of the characters even when there had been a gap since I had last read about them.
I particularly liked his portrayal of the clever, beautiful Fabiola. Many epic historical novels tend to side-line female characters but Fabiola is not a woman content to be side-lined by anybody, (including, I suspect, the author.) I look forward to seeing how she will develop.
Kane seems to me to be historically accurate, adept at capturing the essence of Romans such as Caesar, Crassus and Mark Antony. This dedication to authenticity led to one of my few niggles. He uses the accurate Roman words for weapons, almost all of the time. This gave me pause; I'd rather he dispensed with the Latin and said swords and shields for ease of reading. Because of his accuracy I was also somewhat surprised to hear Romulus described as a teenager and wondered whether Alexander's soldiers would have been as fair of skin and hair as Kane suggests.
These tiny niggles apart, I loved this book. I have bought the next one in the series and look forward to branching out to his book about Hannibal.
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