This historical yarn from Kane (The Forgotten Legion, 2009, etc.) isn’t your grandfather’s Spartacus, or even Stanley Kubrick’s. But it likely marks the first time that the Thracian gladiator, who began his rebellion against Rome in 73 B.C., ever charged into a sword battle with the words “We go for it!”
Picking up from the author’s Spartacus: The Gladiator (2012), the story joins Spartacus and his troops as they savor an early victory over Rome. But trouble is already brewing: Spartacus celebrates his victory by staging a munus, in which 400 Roman captives are made to duel one-on-one until only one is left alive. It’s the first of a few signs that the gladiator’s bloodlust and thirst for power may be his undoing. Political intrigue mounts as his army begins to fragment, with his Gaulish generals plotting to seize control. There is also a feminist subtext as Spartacus’ wife, Ariadne, a priestess of Dionysus, becomes the first to see his fate. The story reaches a turning point when the pregnant Ariadne entreats him to flee into the Alps, but he remains compelled to carry his rebellion against increasing odds. Historical figures, including Julius Caesar and the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus, lend the story some legitimacy. The parts heaviest on sex and violence are also the most enjoyable, including a sequence where Spartacus’ general Navio visits a brothel on a spying mission, gets charged by Romans at the most inopportune time and has to escape through a dung heap.
The book’s pulp-fiction cover art, where Spartacus looks rather like Mel Gibson, is somehow perfect.