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review 2015-11-03 16:11
Life was tough in ancient Rome...
Spartacus: Talons of an Empire - Robert Southworth

Spartacus, by Robert Southworth, is built on a what-if premise - what if Spartacus was not killed at the end of the slaves' rebellion in 73-71 BC? What if instead he was captured, and turned by one of the Roman factions into an agent to carry out hazardous missions - a sort of Jason Bourne of the Roman world? As a premise it makes sense, as he was highly skilled as a fighter both by natural talent and on-the-job training. Too good to waste by execution, really, so long as there was a reliable way to keep him under control.


That accomplished, Spartacus comes under the direct leadership of a man he learns to respect, and gathers around him a diverse band of other fighters. The scene is set for a challenging tour of operations involving hazardous journeys by land and sea, trickery and betrayal, and a final showdown as the climax of the book.


A multi-layered vision is painted of Roman society. The life a man can build for himself is defined partly by innate or learned skills, but overwhelmingly by the power of the patronage he can find. We are introduced to hierarchies of power in the Roman world, most of which are ruthless in the pursuit of their own interests and brutal towards their enemies. The picture is effective, and it didn't take long for me to decide that I would not have enjoyed living in that culture - and most likely would not have had a very long life within it.


Difficult for men, then, and many times more so for women. For them, powerful protection in the form of husband or master was a necessity, and there was basically no legal recourse against brutality. In Robert's book, women provide a background element of stability and passionate release, a desirable goal to yearn for when the fighting is done. For the good guys, this means a faithful wife: for the bad guys, a collection of dispensable slave girls. But there are no central female characters in this book, and it is difficult to see how there could be in this vision of Rome.


The book is very fast paced, as we rush with Spartacus and his gang from threat to threat, and combat to combat. Occasionally we get glimpses of other aspects of Roman life, but all too quickly the men are pulled away to the next fight, learning how to work together as a team as they go.


On a technical level the book could have benefited from another editing session or two. More commas would have helped read through the longer sentences, and changes of viewpoint from one character to another could have been signalled more smoothly in the text. There was nothing of this nature that could not be solved with a minor correction of the text.


Spartacus succeeds as a visceral, fight-focused journey into small team combat in ancient Rome. It also supplies the lurking sense that there are much bigger games afoot, and that at some stage the central characters will be caught up in them. There are follow-on books, which one suspects will increase the stakes, but Spartacus is complete as a novel in itself.

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text 2015-10-03 20:22
September Roundup...
Night Manager - John le Carré
Octopussy and The Living Daylights, and Other Stories (James Bond series, Book 14) - Ian Fleming
Midnight Crystal - Jayne Castle
Revealed - Margaret Peterson Haddix
Dark Witch - Nora Roberts
How to Dance with a Duke - Manda Collins
Spartacus: Morituri (Spartacus 1) - Mark Morris
Why Kings Confess: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery - C.S. Harris
All Night Long - Jayne Ann Krentz

...and the first month this year I managed more than three or four books!

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review 2015-09-20 18:23
Spartacus: Morituri
Spartacus: Morituri (Spartacus 1) - Mark Morris

It took awhile to get going, but once it did, I enjoyed it very much.


A man named Hieronymus arrives in Capua and, under the patronage of Marcus Licinius Crassus, sets up his own Ludus. Soon after the gladiators in both Batiatus' and his rival lanista, Solonius' ludi begin experiencing lethargy, nightmares, and general malaise. After Solonius' gladiators are quickly defeated by Hieronymus' lesser trained men, and people set eyes on Hieronymus' rather unique looking attendant, Mantilius, superstition begins to take hold. Is Mantilius a sorcerer, there to place curses upon rival gladiators, or is there a less otherwordly explanation in play here?


The trouble often times with tie-in novels is that if they're not written by someone with intimate knowledge of the characters, you're sometimes left with beloved characters who behave in non-canonical ways. I didn't see much, if any, of that here. The author had a good grip on the characters he was writing, and I can't recall any events in the book that would directly contradict things that happened on screen. I would have liked there have been a bit more depth to the few original characters the author added, though.


Oh, and he did a great job with the rather unique speech patterns the show used.


The mystery itself--what exactly was wrong with the gladiators--I'd already sussed out, but not the actual how, so that didn't lessen my enjoyment of the story.


This book, like the other Spartacus tie-in novel is set in the period after Spartacus and Crixus have defeated Theokoles, and Crixus is healing from his wounds, and thus not as big a factor in the book as I'd have liked. Though, he did play a part in the solving of the mystery, he still felt like a side character to me.


I'm sad there's only been two tie-in novels released. I'd love to read more.

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text 2015-09-20 05:07
Reading progress update: I've read 239 out of 320 pages.
Spartacus: Morituri (Spartacus 1) - Mark Morris

I'm ready to pull out my dvds and binge watch this entire series again.

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text 2015-09-14 01:02
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 320 pages.
Spartacus: Morituri (Spartacus 1) - Mark Morris

I miss this shoooooooooow!

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