The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
Publication date: January 2011 (Paperback)
Print length 672 pages
Also available in Hardback, Kindle e-book and audiobook formats.
Firstly I must declare a conflict of interest in this review – Ben is both a fellow veterinary surgeon, and a relatively near neighbour, making it fairly weird that we both like writing about Ancient Rome as well. So – objective review to follow:
The Forgotten Legion tells the story of four people living towards the end of the Roman Republic: Romulus and Fabiola, twins and slaves, born as a result of the rape of their mother by a noble; Tarquinius, the Etruscan soothsayer; Brennus, the Gallic gladiator. Romulus and Fabiola are sold, Romulus as a gladiator, Fabiola as a prostitute, and Romulus finds in Brennus a protector and friend. When they are forced to escape, they team up with Brennus and join the legions. Unfortunately, the legion they join is not commanded by the brilliant Caesar, or even the competent Pompey, but the glory-hunting Crassus, jealous of his fellow triumvirs success. Crassus takes his legions to fight the Parthians, with disastrous consequences well known to history.
Ben’s characters are vivid and believable, the plot, while a little slow moving in the first quarter of the book, zips along nicely to a breathtaking climax, and the gladiatorial and military fights are suitably bloody and exciting. Where Ben excels though is in the level of detail that allows the reader to feel the sense of being among the lowest elements of Roman society – the slaves and gladiators and prostitutes that history largely ignored.
The book was inspired by legends of Roman mercenaries fighting in China, remnants of the legions that were captured by the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae. While the historical authenticity of that legend is questioned, it is a great premise for a story, with plenty to be explored in the remaining two books in the series. The tale continues with the friends in the captivity of the Parthians in “The Silver Eagle”, and will culminate in the “Road to Rome,” on the fateful Ides of March.
Alex Gough November 2012