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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Forgotten Legion

Review of The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
Overview from An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold — Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day — and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.

The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.

My Review:

The story for this week takes place during the Roman Era, B.C. The story is told from four different viewpoints, all of them slaves serving in Rome’s vast empire.
We start with Tarquinius, one of the last pure blood Etruscans still alive after Rome practically wiped them out. He is trying to hold onto his people’s heritage and their art of predicting the future as the protégé of the last Etruscan haruspex or soothsayer. His mentor is predicting a long journey for him after his death (the mentor’s, that is) while Tarquinius just wants to survive long enough to exact his revenge on his teacher’s killer and carry on his mission of passing on their ways.
Then we have Fabiola and Romulus who exist because their mother was raped many years ago by a Roman patrician (or an upper-class person). They are separately sold to a brothel and a gladiator school. Both vow revenge for the rape of their mother.
And last, but not least, we have Brennus, a Gaul whose homeland was also conquered by the Romans. While he tried to retaliate, he was taken as a captive slave and forced to fight in the arena.
The story tells the tale of how all of these lives intersect, though unlike her brother Romulus, Fabiola never actually meets Tarquinius or Brennus. She is, however, known to them even though they are not known to her. Even without her brother she proves that she can hold her own as she catches the eyes of Rome’s leading citizens as a favorite prostitute all the while hoping to find her brother and the name of the patrician who raped her mother.
The characters are each compelling in their own ways even if some of the things they are forced to do to survive breaks our hearts. Before reading this story I had always been under the erroneous assumption that the slaves in the Roman Empire were better treated than those in the United States but that was not the case.
They were forced to fight to death, many times, in the arena, as entertainment for the fickle masses. Others, like Romulus and Fabiola’s mother, could be raped, knowing that their assailants would never be punished. And of course, they could also be forced into prostitution. No wonder Spartacus and others tried to revolt.
During this time, Spartacus’ failed uprising is still fresh in many minds as he and his cohorts were brutally crushed by Marcus Licinius Crassus in his quest for domination of the Roman Empire.
It is Crassus in fact who eventually leads three of our four main characters on failed campaign to conquer Parthia that sends them to the far ends of the world. To say that his military leadership is lacking would be a gross understatement as his soldiers are forced to pay for his stubbornness.
The stories here were compelling. The Etruscan aspect had me hooked from the beginning since I have always found them fascinating. Their culture was different in many ways not only from the Romans but also from most of the ancient peoples. I am not sure if they were really that accurate in their predictions but that aspect of their culture manifested in the person of Tarquinius is an incredible way to tell the story.
The downsides were only the excessive use of the f-bomb and some of the graphic sexual descriptions of what Fabiola is forced to resort to. It broke my heart at the same time as it disgusted me.
In summary, I liked this one but didn’t love it. Well I only loved the Etruscan parts. Still I learned a lot and was entertained at the same time. For this reason alone, I am recommending it.



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