Book Review: Spartacus: Swords and Ashes by J.M. Clements

The latest offering from Titan Books is a tie-in novel for the series Spartacus that has propelled Starz into the world of original premium content in the tradition of HBO and more recently, Showtime.  The show centers on the infamous character of Spartacus, the slave turned world class gladiator in the Roman arena of death.  Plucked from his home in Thrace, Spartacus and his wife are both sold to separate slave traders and sent to different parts of the world.  Spartacus lands in the house of Quintus Batiatus, famous lanista, where he trains and quickly becomes the champion of Capua.

Meanwhile, in the house of Marcus Pelorus, a celebration is under way to bid farewell to Gaius Verres, who is on his way to Sicily to become its new governor.  However, at the end of the night, Pelorus is dead by the hand of one of his own slaves, and the rest of the servants under his ownership are sentenced to death, as is custom in the house of a murdered owner.  However, the true deceit lies within the executors of his will, who may have had a hand in his death.

While I have not seen the show Spartacus, this novel reminds me quite a bit of HBO’s Rome, not only because of the setting, but because of the way it deftly moves between sex, power, intrigue, brutalism, and romance all in the same sequence.  It is a vastly entertaining book, with a colorful palette of characters to propel each scene forward.  The pace never slacks, and when your thirst for blood begins to take hold, this book delivers.

There is really only one sequence in the arena, but for this tale, most of the real action takes place in the streets.  Serving as a murder mystery, a game of political shadows, a tale of lust, all while making bold political statements about the nature of men and the humanity (or lackthereof) of human slavery.  While most will probably pass the book (and television series) off purely as salacious entertainment, if the themes of this novel are any indication, there is much more than meets the eye to this new version of Spartacus.  Highly recommended to the legion of fans that were so disappointed when HBO cancelled Rome, because while it not be quite as good or the same medium, it lives and breathes with the same fervor for detail and entertainment.  Now, I need to sit down and check the show out, as this novel has piqued my interest.

8.8/10

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