Monday, March 1, 2010

Blog Tour Review and Interview: The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

Book: The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

Genre: Historical Fiction

Rating: A-

From: The publisher (St. Martin's Press)

I really love reading books set in this time period of Ancient Rome, and it's been awhile since I've read one, so I welcomed the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.

But I must say, the beginning of this book was a bit slow for me, only because there was quite a bit of background history that needed telling, and I was so anxious to get to our characters and their story. Once we finally did that, things picked up tenfold.

The story follows several slaves, one who had been raised a slave but still had the chance to learn from a mentor the art of divination, one who was captured when his village was raided and he was hauled off to be a gladiator, and two twins who were born into slavery in the middle of the city of Rome, and then sold when they were 13 one to be a gladiator, and one to be a prostitute.

As you can imagine, their lives were harsh, which made for some pretty graphic scenes. The violence surrounding the sport gladiator fighting is unbelievable, and I found myself cheering and rooting for our heroes to make it through just one more time. The life of a prostitute was gut-wrenching to learn about, but our heroine held her own and used her smarts to make the best of a terrible situation.

It was satisfying to see how the lives of all these characters merged together to become the story of the forgotten legion; the story of a legion of Roman soldiers who go on a campaign with Crassus against the Parthians, and what unimaginable things they are then forced to endure. They end up marching further from Rome than any other group of Romans and today, a city far far away in China is being studied to determine the root of their ancestry and if they have ties to these ancient Romans. Fascinating stuff.

Sadly, the book ends as the story is really getting going! Of course, you know what that means... yes there is a sequel! It's called The Silver Eagle and it was published last year. Later on this year, the final book in the trilogy, The Road to Rome, will be published.

To sum up, I really enjoyed reading about this time period. I fell in love with the characters, I ached for them, I rooted for them, I suffered with them. I cringed when I had to read about the violence, the sex and the language that went on, but I understood that for this particular book, it is crucial to the story.

Bottom line: Once I got past the first background parts, I totally enjoyed it!

Now, I'd like to welcome Ben Kane to my blog as he finishes up this particular blog tour. I've asked him some questions, including some of my old standby favorites:

-- What motivated you to write such a sweeping historical epic? Have you always been a so called history buff? Was there any one specific thing that got you interested in this particular part of history?

Since childhood, I have always been fascinated by history, particularly military history. Anything to do with the the ancient Greeks and Romans to the Byzantine Empire, the Crusades to the Mongols, the 100 Years War to Napoleon, the American Civil War, World War I and World War II, I devoured. For some reason I cannot explain, though, the Romans hold a particular fascination for me. Once I decided to write a military historical fiction novel, the Romans seemed the most natural choice. The first novel I wrote is still on the hard drive of my computer, because it didn't have enough scope. It was my agent who taught me that, and who prompted me to write a book with a more sweeping style. Fortunately, I had actually been to the site where the Roman prisoners from the battle of Carrhae were sent in 53 BC. Nowadays, it is the ruins of a city called Merv, and is found in Turkmenistan, but in ancient times the settlement was known as Antiochia, and was in the area known as Margiana. When I was walking around the ruins in 1997, I read a few lines in my guidebook about Roman legionaries who had ended up there and was absolutely intrigued. When I got home, I did a little research on the subject. Along with the time in 2001 which I spent working in and around Hadrian's Wallin northern England, this was the basis for The Forgotten Legion.

-- I'm curious to know if it's hard for you to write about such violent scenes and situations, because I know that sometimes, it's awfully hard to read!

It might sound terrible, but in fact I find it incredibly easy to write battle or combat scenes of virtually any kind. I can't explain why, but I find it the most natural thing in the world to imagine being a soldier. I always have. Such scenes are by far and away the fastest ones I ever write. My wife explains it by saying that I must have been a Roman legionary in a previous life, which I don't really believe in, but I haven't yet had a better explanation!

-- What are your plans for future books and/or sequels?

Here in the UK, the sequel to The Forgotten Legion has already been published. It is called The Silver Eagle, and comes out in the United States on 16 March.The last book in the trilogy is entitled The Road to Rome and will be published in the UK in August this year, and early next year in the USA.

I'm in the great position of having sold a new trilogy to Random House, my publishers here in the UK. These three books concern the Second Punic War betweenRome and Carthage, spanning the incredible battles which Hannibal won and the prolonged campaign by the Romans to defeat him. It is a period of history which I adore, and I'm so excited about being afforded the privilege to write about it. The first book is called Soldier of Carthage, and I am about 50% of the way into it at the moment. It will be published next year in the UK, and hopefully some time soon after that in the United States.

-- Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what would the playlist include for The Forgotten Legion?

I used to listen to music all the time, all types from classical (Beethoven/Mozart/Tchaikovsky) to rock (U2/Midnight Oil) and world music (Johnny Clegg/Yothu Yindi). Mainly, though, and as stereotypical as it might sound, it was the soundtrack to the film Gladiator! I find Hans Zimmer's music so inspiring; scenes often used to flow semi-miraculously when I listened to that. Thanks to the repetitive strain injuries caused by too much typing, nowadays I use voice activated software to write, which sadly means that I cannot listen to music as it creates too much background noise. However during my breaks, I still listen to the Gladiator music.

-- A question I love to ask: What would a perfect day be like for you?

It's an impossibility: a day so long that I could get in a full quota of writing and still be able to spend the same amount of time with my wife and family and get enough sleep!

-- And finally, a question I ask all authors for the Author Picks Five feature on my blog: What five books are most important or influential to you?

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff.

The Many Coloured Land by Julian May.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.

Do non-fiction books count? If they do, then Conscious Loving by Gay and Kathleen Hendricks has to be on the list.

Thanks so much to Ben for hanging out with us today!

And don't forget to check out these reviews by those who've gone before me in the TLC line up:

Monday, January 25th: Starting Fresh
Thursday, January 28th: Drey’s Library
Tuesday, February 3rd: Books for Breakfast
Wednesday, February 4th: Café of Dreams
Monday, February 8th: Chefdruk Musings
Tuesday, February 9th: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, February 10th: Bibliofreak
Thursday, February 11th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, February 16th: My Two Blessings
Thursday, February 18th: Rundpinne
Tuesday, March 2nd: It’s All About Books


  1. Thanks for this very interesting review and interview. Like you, I do love a bit of Ancient Rome in my fiction....
    Fascinating that the author finds the battle scenes easy to write - I would have guessed that they would be the most difficult!
    Thanks for sharing,

  2. I haven't read a historical from this time period in ages, and this one sounds really good. You're quite the enabler, Suey!

  3. I love Ancient Rome in books (especially those by Lindsey Davis). Not sure I want to get drawn into another SERIES of books about it, though... I'll wait to see how the second book is received :-)

  4. I'm so glad you liked the book, Suey! I find that many books lag in the beginning while they set the stage for the story. So I understand your impatience, but it sounds like The Forgotten Legion more than made up for it!

    Also, I can't believe that the easiest parts for the author to write are the fighting scenes! I wonder if he's fairly unique in that aspect...?

    Anyway, thanks for being on this tour! You always put in a lot of effort for your reviews, and I appreciate it!



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