Thursday, June 07, 2012

Spartacus by Ben Kane: A Book Review

[The giveaway is beneath the author bio]

Spartacus the Gladiator
by Ben Kane
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Category: Historical Fiction
Available in Print and eBook, 480 pages

One of my favorite themes in stories whether fiction or history is that of the oppressed getting the best of their oppressor, making fools of them and giving them a taste of their own brutality even if only temporarily and that is what the story of Spartacus the Gladiator is and why it has become legend.

Based on his handling of that theme in his retelling of the Spartacus story, Ben Kane must have a particular fondness for it too.

As the story opens Spartacus is arriving back in his home village in Thrace after serving ten years in the Roman army.  There he discovers that the tribal head had been killed along with his heirs and Spartacus' own father by the man now in the position.  Spartacus attempts to gather a gang of willing men to overthrow the usurper on the very night of his return but is betrayed and sold to a passing slave trader along with several of his co-conspirators.  The tribe's Dionysian priestess Ariadne, claiming to be his wife, travels with him to escape the clutches of the leader who was insisting on making her his wife against her will.

Spartacus is then sold into a training facility in the Roman town of Capua that provides for a price, gladiators for the Roman's entertainment. Ancient Rome's version of Reality TV and WWF Wrestling if they were allowed to have even less respect for life, limb, justice and sanity than they now have.

Ariadne lives with him there and there he is soon conspiring again to right the wrongs perpetrated by oppressors.  This rebellion succeeds in the freeing of dozens of gladiators who then ensconce themselves inside the crater of Vesuvius.  Rome sends an army of several thousand to lay siege...

To go on would give spoilers

This book was a struggle for me to stick with and I'm still trying to figure out why.  I'm a very eclectic reader and I have enjoyed other stories with many of the same elements one might suspect were the issue for a fifty-something female: violence, profanity and sexual violence, action/adventure, war.  I have loved other stories set in ancient Rome and the story of Spartacus has interested me since I first encountered it in my I expected to do more than tolerate this one.

Three possible explanations, one of which the whole fault lies with me and the other two possibly with the story elements.  The first of the latter was the modern British vernacular and slang in the mouths of these ancient Romans and the second was POV switching in mid scene, especially when it occurred in battle scenes.  Both tended to jar me out of the story and the second often confused me enough to force a rereading of several paragraphs.  The first of those surprised me since the other historical elements--costume, religion, historical people and events, weaponry and war practices, landscape, architecture--all seemed solid.  Kane appears to not just respect research and historical accuracy but to love it.  His passion for it is apparent on every page.

Maybe the dialog issues were due to my being American and if American vernacular had been used it would have been unnoticeable to me tho remain the same anachronism. These thoughts make me curious about how this has been handled in other historical novels.  How would one research the vernacular of the illiterate in an era where the language of the time is no longer living and the records there are were made by the literate, an elite minority?

But the fault could lie mostly in my having picked it up to read only as my days were ending and my eyes and brain already too tired to focus. I wish I could have done more justice to Kane's hard work but other commitments I did not foresee at the time I committed to this tour had to take priority.  Maybe after I get back home from these weeks of helping my sister care for our mother later this month I'll give it another try.

One thing Kane could do well tho was bring a sword fight to vivid, bloody life and I would not recommend as bedtime reading one of those play-by-play scenes where every sword, mace, ax and knife strike were described explicitly including the damage done to the flesh--heads flew, blood sprayed, guts spilled...

In spite of the difficulties I've described I was not able to give up as I had been made to care enough about the characters I had to know what happened next and I still care enough that I'm likely to want to read the sequel I understand is coming out soon.  So Kane was obviously doing much right.

[I received a free copy in exchange for a fair and honest review and participation in this blog tour]

Watch the book trailer:

From the Publisher:

   Long the stuff of legends, Spartacus is known to most modern readers through the classic Kubrick film version of Howard Fast’s novel. Now bestselling historical novelist Ben Kane returns to the source material and presents a lively and compelling new vision of the man who was Spartacus—Roman army auxiliary, slave, gladiator and ultimately the leader of an army of slaves who nearly brought Rome to its knees.
    Ben Kane’s brilliant novel begins in the Thracian village to which Spartacus has returned after escaping from life as an auxiliary in the Roman army. Jealous of his attachment to Ariadne, a Dionysian priestess, the Thracian king betrays Spartacus to the Romans who take him, along with Ariadne, into captivity and to the school of gladiators at Capua.
    Against the background of the unbelievable brutality of gladiatorial life, Spartacus and Crixus the Gaul plan the audacious overthrow of their Roman masters. They escape and flee to Vesuvius, where they recruit and train an army of escaped slaves that will have to face the conquerors of the known world, the most successful deadly army in all of history in a battle that will set in motion the legend that is Spartacus.

What They're Saying:

“Gritty, passionate and violent, this thrilling book is a real page-turner and a damn good read. It brings Spartacus—and ancient Rome—to vivid, colorful life.” — Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire

“The story of Spartacus, and the slave uprising against the Romans in 73 BC is well known to many readers and cinemagoers. Yet Ben Kane manages to bring a freshness to the saga. Told with Kane’s usual panache and historical knowledge, this book is highly recommended.”- Kathy Stevenson, UK Daily Mail

“Not so mysterious as Warbeck, nor so canny as Catherine, Spartacus did one thing really well, and that was fight, and he does a lot of it in Ben Kane’s tremendously direct frill- (not thrill) free novel, which describes how Spartacus is betrayed and sold to be a gladiator in the arena. Eyes are merciless, blows are wicked and screams are piercing, but this is, vividly recounted in muscular prose.”- Toby Clement, UK Sunday Telegraph

“Ben Kane fills in the plentiful gaps in the historical record with some lively imaginings. There is much to enjoy in this saga of the downtrodden triumphing temporarily over the oppressors, and the portrait of Spartacus as charismatic leader is a vivid one.” -Nick Rennison, Sunday Times UK

“I have read all of Ben Kane’s books and have thoroughly enjoyed them all but, I have to admit that this novel would have to be his best. Therefore I am delighted that there will be a sequel out later this year. Ben Kane does a brilliant job in bringing to life the character of Spartacus. He has inserted a considerable amount of historical information into the storyline and has tempered it with a fine balance of fictional input to produce a very enjoyable and believable novel. The novel is full of action, conflict, romance, enmity and much more . Reading it has been most rewarding.”- Aristotle Spencer, Reviewer

Ben Kane (photo and bio and links)

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. He drove around the USA in a camper van, trekked the Inca trail and took a ship to Antarctica. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least.

While working in Northumberland in 2001/2, his love of ancient history was fueled by visits to Hadrian’s Wall. He naïvely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full time at two jobs – being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly, its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time.

To find out more about Ben and his books visit:
Twitter: @benkaneauthor


I'm authorized to give away one copy.

Open to Canada and US only.  Choice of paper or ebook

Enter by leaving a comment expressing interest on this post along with your @ so I can contact you.

Extra entries can be had by:

Following Joystory on Twitter  if you already do leave a separate comment saying so
Like  Joystory's page on Facebook   if you already do leave a separate comment saying so
Tweeting once per day (leave the tweet's url in a comment here)
Add Joystory feed to your reader.   if you already do leave a separate comment saying so
Following Joystory on Networked Blogs   if you already do leave a separate comment saying so

For each one you do leave a comment here with the identifying url and/or your username.  Remember leave a separate comment for each task as the individual comments will be the entries that I assign numbers to in the order they are made and then use to select the winner.

Follow the blog tour to see more reviews, guest posts by the author and giveaways:

Tour Host:                                            Date of review:   (GP)Guest Post, 

                                                                                            (I)Interview, or(G)Giveaway?

Christopher Historical Boys              TBD                       GP & G June 2
Siobian Owl Bookmark Blog            June 3                    None
Holly Bippity Boppity Book             June 4                    G
Meg A Bookish Affair                        June 5                    GP June 6
Lucy Moonlight Gleam's Bookshelf None                     GP June 5
Margo Fourth Musketeer                   June 6                    G
Joy Story                                               June 7                    G
Kimberly A Novel Affair                    June 8                    I & G June 9
Jenny Alternate Readality                 June 10                  None
Ruth My Devotional Thoughts         June 11                  GP & G June 12
Ana Book Spark                                  June 12                  None
Kim Reflections of a Book Addict   June 12                  G
Caroline OKBoLover                          June 13                  None
Steve(Marcie) To Read or Not to Read June 4              GP & G June 15
Kathleen Celtic Lady Reviews          June 15                 G
Naida Bookworm                                June 16                  None
BrendaWV Stitcher                             June 17                  GP June 18
Brittany BookNook Club                 June 18                  None
Vera Luxury Reading                         June 20                  None
Bev The Wormhole                             June 20                  None
Patty Broken Teepee                          June 21                  G
Erica Ink Spots and Roses                 None                      GP & G June 21
Meaghan Feeling a Little Bookish   June 22                  G
Joseph Fresh-scraped Vellum            June 23                  I June 24
John (Shellie) Layers of Thought     June 25                  None
Emma Words and Peace                   June 25                  G
Laurie Reader Girls                             None                      I & G June 25
J.A. Beard's Unnecessary Musings June 26                    I & G June 27
Martina Book Drunkard                    June 28                  None
Farrah Book Faery                              June 29                  GP & G June 30
Gaby Starting Fresh                            June 30                  None

13 tell me a story:

Teddy Rose 6/07/2012 12:38 PM  

Thanks so much for taking part in the tour!

Carl Scott 6/07/2012 1:04 PM  

I'm very interested in Ben's retelling of this classic story. Please enter my name for the chance to win this available copy.

You can contact me at @carlrscott on Twitter of course but it's probably more efficient to email me at carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx, just to be sure I get it.


Carl Scott 6/07/2012 1:06 PM  

I am Following Joystory on Twitter: @carlrscott

Carl Scott 6/07/2012 1:07 PM  

I Like Joystory's page on Facebook: Carl Scott

Carl Scott 6/07/2012 1:10 PM  

I tweeted a link to this blog post:

Carl Scott 6/07/2012 1:12 PM  

I am Following Joystory on Networked Blogs: Carl Scott

Literary Chanteuse 6/07/2012 1:33 PM  

I have always thought the Spartacus story was is such a good one. So glad to find out about this book. Thanks!


Literary Chanteuse 6/07/2012 1:35 PM  

Twitter follower (at)LiteraryChanteu


Literary Chanteuse 6/07/2012 1:36 PM  

Liked on fb (Literary Chanteuse Margaret)


Literary Chanteuse 6/07/2012 1:37 PM  

Tweeted giveaway

Margaret ‏@LiteraryChanteu


Literary Chanteuse 6/07/2012 1:37 PM  

Network blog follower (Literary Chanteuse Margaret)


Anonymous,  6/07/2012 2:30 PM  

I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy it more, Joy! Thanks for your indepth and honest review. I think your point about my use of vernacular is an interesting one - and one where I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't. I'm grateful that you commented that we don't know how Romans or Thracians or Germans of the time spoke. Any way of making them speak is therefore inaccurate. All the novelist, in this case me, is to try to give the characters a sense of authenticity. For me, that was to make their speech gritty, profane and to the point.
Best wishes, thanks for the post, and good luck to everyone with the competition!

Bonnie Jacobs 6/12/2012 10:53 AM  

I've been interested in stories about Romans since I took Latin in high school. Thanks for having a giveaway -- if I should win, I'd need the paperback, since I don't have an e-reader.

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