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I was fortunate enough to meet Ben Kane shortly after publication of ‘’The Silver Eagle’’, the second novel in his ‘’Forgotten Legion’’ chronicles. Having enjoyed the first two parts of the trilogy, I was eager to read the third and told him to write faster. He just laughed at me and told me I’d have to be patient. Patience may be a virtue, but it was never one of mine. Fortunately, ‘’The Road to Rome’’ was well worth the wait.
After years of wondering if their twin were still alive, Romulus and Fabiola happen to catch sight of each other on the docks at Alexandria. Their meeting isn’t to last long, as Fabiola is being rushed to safety by her lover, Brutus, one of Caesar’s most trusted generals and Romulus has just been press-ganged into an army about to go into battle. However, this chance meeting gives them additional strength, which they are certainly going to need to survive the struggles ahead.
For Fabiola, this involves killing Caesar, the man she is certain raped her mother and sired her. Recalling the information she was able to get from men as a prostitute, she buys the site of her former life, the Lupanar and starts planning Caesar’s death. Romulus, however, like most of the army loves Caesar and respects the great general that he is. He would do anything to serve Caesar, but first has to deal with the revelation from Tarquinius that his past wasn’t all it appeared to be and then fight for his life when it is discovered he is a slave, which makes fighting in a legion a capital offence. Suddenly, Romulus also returns to the site of his former life, but not by his own choosing.
Once again, there is a slightly different feel to ‘’The Road to Rome’’ than there was to the earlier parts. Previously, the main characters have largely been closer together, but this time they are all separated, which gives more story to follow. Although fleetingly, some major historical figures become integral characters here, if only as victims of parts of the plot. For the first time, we get to see Fabiola’s lover, Decimus Brutus, in a lot more depth and, as with all Kane’s characters, we get a feel for the conflict inside him very quickly.
Kane’s books may be written around historical events, but they are hugely character driven as well. Fabiola has always been driven by revenge, but this time around we see exactly how far her drive will take her and she seems to be a much colder person this time around. Tarquinius is different as well, less certain of himself with his haruspicy uncertain and consumed with guilt over his revelation to Romulus. For me, the most interesting character was Romulus, at the point he realises that having killed to survive his whole life, he is unable to commit a cold-blooded murder, even a murder he has sworn to himself for years he will commit. Fabiola and Romulus’ characters put them on opposite sides of the same coin and it’s interesting to see the differences between two people who, as twins, were so closely matched at the very start of the trilogy.
It’s not just the characters that make the story here, though, but Kane’s eye for pacing and excitement. Aware that he’s finishing off a trilogy, he ends most of the early chapters here on a cliff hanger that almost forces the reader to continue. Whilst much of the book may draw away slightly from the excitement and the sights and sounds of battle, in Kane’s hands this is no less exciting. Indeed, ‘’The Road to Rome’’ is almost the perfect combination of the previous two books, taking much from the battle scenes of ‘’The Forgotten Legion’’ and drawing from the political motivations and intrigue of ‘’The Silver Eagle’’. Kane combines the two wonderfully, then adds something extra special by doing something really nasty. He mentions a previously well-loved character, casting doubt on an earlier plot point in the minds of both character and reader in a wonderfully evil piece of mis-direction at a vital time. It’s the kind of twist that makes me want to strangle the writer – but not until I’ve finished the book because I couldn’t possibly put it down now!
‘’The Road to Rome’’ is the perfect ending to this trilogy, containing elements of everything that has been best about the series thus far, yet still adding something new. Having worked through and been captured by ‘’The Forgotten Legion’’ trilogy, I’m reminded that I never really enjoyed history at school. It always seemed so dull and lifeless to me back then. For anyone who has ever felt the same way, Ben Kane is the antidote, as I know without a shadow of doubt that if the history text books or my history teacher had ever talked about history with this same rush of excitement and intrigue, I’d have loved it above any other subject. Kane is not only a great writer, he’s made me enjoy something I’ve hated for years, which makes him a miracle worker as well. A feeling like this is priceless and, to my mind, well worth the £5.74 the book can be found for on eBay for the hardback version and definitely well worth the £3.49 Play is asking for a pre-order of the paperback version due out soon.
This is a slightly amended version of a review previously published under my name at www.thebookbag.co.uk