Thanks to Hollywood, Spartacus is one of the most familiar figures of Roman history, notorious and glorified for his slave rebellion in the 1st century BC. When reading Ben Kane’s Spartacus, it is advised that you put everything you think you know behind you and immerse yourself in this enthralling recreation of the years that turned Spartacus from a noble Thracian warrior into a gladiator in Capua, finally becoming a figure feared and ridiculed by the Roman senate who sent against him army after army, ever increasing in size, only for them to suffer humiliating defeat.The figure of Spartacus inspires his men, moving the pages on fast, but there is much more to the novel. The history comes alive through Spartacus’s relationships with other people – Ariadne, priestess of Dionysus, who becomes his wife; Carbo, the bitter young Roman who finds his own identity through Spartacus; the mishmash of argumentative followers; and Crassus in Rome, who makes the destruction of Spartacus and his rabble his personal mission.
This is the first in a series and so focuses not on the war with Rome as much as Spartacus’ efforts to rally slaves and gladiators together (no mean feat), giving them military training along with hope that they can defeat the might of Rome. The parallel story of Carbo helps to build a fascinating picture of the world that Spartacus opposes, and demonstrates that there is good and bad on both sides. There is also a lot of action, every bit as thrilling as you would expect from a tale of a great fighter. Ben Kane is a master of blending action, storytelling, living characters and historical and military detail. At the end of this novel, Spartacus will live in your memory, and he will be different from any incarnation you have encountered before.
Ben Kane writes so well, putting the heart into his characters as well as action onto the page. He is one of the finest authors of historical fiction writing today and Spartacus: The Gladiator may well be his best yet.
This review first appeared in the February edition of The Historical Novels Review
The paperback is now available.