The historical novel “The Forgotten Legion” by Ben Kane is the first of three volumes of the trilogy, the action of which takes place during the fall of the republic, in the 1st century BCE. The first thing that catches your eye when you pick up the book is its size. The over 600-page item with an extensive glossary of Latin terms is a great treat for anyone who would like to delve into the brutal world of the Romans on summer evenings.
The second issue that distinguishes the book from other titles is the fact that the author focused in the novel not on describing the life of the highest social strata, but on showing the hopelessness of the fate of the lowest classes. Each of the four heroes has different adventures. So we have a proud Etruscan worker of the latifundium and a warrior – Tarquin, who, using the great knowledge of his ancestors, learns his fate; siblings: Romulus and Fabiola, slaves who, in their teenage years, are sold to the school of gladiators and lupanarium, respectively; and Brennus, a mighty Gaul whose people have been wiped out by the Romans and must fight for survival in the amphitheater arena. Each of the characters has their own experiences and fights against the hopeless fate of the slave in their own way. As it turns out, however, by believing in themselves and not giving in to adversity, they are able to avoid the most hopeless situations.
The leitmotif of the book is revenge and punishment, which drive the already extremely fast-paced action. For example, Romulus and Fabiola dream of punishing their former owner, the merchant Gemellus, who caused them and their mother much pain; Tarquin seeks to kill the owner of the latifundium, on whose orders his friend and mentor from his youth – Olenus – an Etruscan priest was killed; Brennus, in turn, hates the Romans and still remembers the destruction of his tribe. The adventures of each of the four heroes unexpectedly begin to connect and, according to the prophecies of the haruspice Olenus, three men set off to the far east to take part in one of the greatest defeats of the Roman army in history – at Carrahe. There are also the Roman legions in 53 BCE they are completely destroyed by the Parthian horse archers, the commander-in-chief Crassus himself is killed, and the heroes and part of the army are taken prisoner. Fate will lead them, according to the plot, even further east to defend the borders of Parthia against distant nomadic peoples.
Wydawnictwo Znak has already announced the continuation of the trilogy, and translation work is underway on the next titles. Personally, I must admit that the plot captivated me, as did the idea for the book. It’s really nice to read the adventures of the characters who, fighting for their lives, get rid of their belief in slave status and become fully free. Interestingly, it was the journey to the East and finding themselves in Parthian captivity that fully freed them from the conviction of their subordination. I can certainly recommend the book to everyone and I am looking forward to the next two volumes.
Finally, it is worth saying two words about the author. Ben Kane is a great enthusiast of the world of ancient Rome. For charity purposes, he marched next to Hadrian’s Wall dressed as a legionary and later repeated this feat in Italy. So if the author of the novel has such ideas, we must be sure that he has written a wonderful and engaging work.