|The Silver Eagle (Forgotten Legion) by Ben Kane|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Iain Wear|
|Summary: More political intrigue than constant fighting like ‘'The Forgotten Legion, but Kane shows he can write action and intrigue equally well.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: June 2009|
|Publisher: Preface Publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
I thought Ben Kane's debut novel The Forgotten Legion was excellent, but that it ended a little abruptly, even with the knowledge there was more to come. Having now read that 'more to come', I feel a lot better about it. The story is so relentless that there was no obvious place to pause between books.
Fabiola, having been bought out of prostitution by Brutus, one of Caesar's closest allies, is living on his estate in Pompeii. Life seems to be going well, but soon after her arrival she is involved in a confrontation with Scaevola, a man hired to hunt down runaway slaves. Frightened by his promise of reprisals, Fabiola flees back to Rome, but on finding the city in disarray and close to civil war, she heads for Gaul to find Brutus and safety.
Fabiola is haunted by not knowing if her brother is alive, after his legion was defeated at Carrhae. Romulus has been captured by the Parthians and forced to join their army in the distant East, along with his friends Brennus and Tarquinius. However, not all is well, as Tarquinius' ability to read the future has deserted him and Brennus and Romulus have been exposed as slaves by some of their fellow legionaries and are being shunned and threatened. Romulus is desperate to return to Rome to find Fabiola, but he can't see a way to escape his situation other than being killed in battle.
There's a slightly different feel to The Silver Eagle after The Forgotten Legion. In the first book much of the activity took place in battle or in the gladiatorial arena, with the characters fighting to survive. Here, there's a much greater focus on the politics and power plays rather than physical struggles. The situations are less tangible and it's more of a latent threat than the mortal danger the characters found themselves in before. There may be less action here, but there's more menace and the story seems to stalk the reader through darkened streets rather than drag you along in a headlong rush.
It's not often a writer is as comfortable writing detailed, slow moving plot as they are at writing action, but Kane certainly is. His sense of pacing in both styles is perfect and he switches between the thrust of action and the steadier pace of politics with ease. It helps that the politics of First Century B. C. Rome were quiet violent, but the story never drags for a moment.
Much of the reason for this can be found in the vividness of Kane's writing. In The Forgotten Legion you could almost smell the blood being spilled and hear the screams of dying men. With fewer battles, there's less of this, but Kane describes landscapes and cities with the same care and detail. There's a particularly descriptive example when characters land on the African coast and see certain animals for the first time.
It's not just in the visual field that Kane shines, but also in the emotional. The shame Fabiola feels at some of her actions is so well written I could share it with her. The combination of sights and emotions when she sees a corpse strewn battlefield is palpable and the nausea the reader feels is one part Fabiola's and one part our own. The only way Kane could have got the smells of rotting corpses across any better would have been in a scratch and sniff novel.
As with the mid-parts of some series, I did feel that the main point of the book was to manoeuvre characters into positions for the end game. Having followed the characters through two books, it is clear that there is still much more to come, but also that destinations and destinies are near. Where such books often fill little purpose than to kill time and move characters around, Kane inputs enough story here to make this a worthwhile read. He may be playing chess with his characters, but he does so with such style that if chess could match it, it would be a spectator sport.
Kane has also addressed what I felt was the one failing of the original book. Here, he has found a natural break in the story and used it as the perfect point to pause. He's also left it in such a place that if this were a television series, you'd be fully expecting the theme tune to strike up and the credits to roll. This is no sudden stop, but a well worked cliffhanger.
This is a great combination of everything you should find in a decent book. It's a well-researched historical thriller, full of action and intrigue and written with vivid descriptions and full of well-drawn characters. This is as close to a master class in all the varied aspects of writing as you can get.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For more tales of Roman times, see Simon Scarrow's Centurion.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Silver Eagle (Forgotten Legion) by Ben Kane at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Silver Eagle (Forgotten Legion) by Ben Kane at Amazon.com.
Ben Kane was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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