When you pick up a copy of Ben Kane’s Spartacus the Gladiator you are certainly getting what it says on the tin. Blood, gore, violence death and – oh yes – more blood.
As a child I was fascinated with Roman and Greek history; a favourite book was Thermopylae, which gave an account of the 300 who defended Greece against the invading Persian hordes. I read it over and over again. Spurred by that interest, I recently read Peter Stothard’s On the Spartacus Road, which was a slight disappointment – see link below. I thought this historical novel would make up for what that non-fiction book lacked. I was wrong. This is another Sunday Times bestseller – see 1000 Years of Annoying the French. I repeat what I said then – it says a lot about the readers of the Sunday Times. Bereft of imagination and critical acumen I’d say. But then that’s what you might expect from a Murdoch acolyte.
The characterisation in this book is flat and uninteresting. The character of Crixus, Spartacus’ rival in the rebellion forces is dull, uninteresting and stereotyped. Others are equally slight and thin – Ariadne, Spartacus’ woman, has a little more of interest to offer. In fact, ironically, it’s often the defeated Romans who are more interesting and gain more sympathy, though again these are only stereotypes and caricatures.
If you really want a sense of life in this period, and to read a gripping tale I would recommend you look to Tom Holland rather than Ben Kane. His books – Rubicon and Persian Fire – are packed with real historical facts and detail; they are generous in their scope and well researched. A definite recommendation.
As for Ben Kane – well I read this to the end. Mostly I enjoyed it, but I won’t be reading the sequel – Spartacus the Rebellion – which is due out later this year.