The verdict: 5 of 5 Stars
Hannibal, Enemy of Rome is book 1 of Ben Kane’s Hannibal trilogy.
I read the hardback version, bought with my own hard-earned…
Here’s what the version I have says about the story:
The great Carthaginian General, Hannibal, has never forgotten the defeat and humiliation of his father by Rome. Now he plans his revenge and the destruction of the old enemy.
Soldier of Carthage
While Hannibal prepares for war, the young son of one of his most trusted military commanders goes on an innocent adventure with his best friend – and disappears.
Captured by pirates (no, not that sort), put up for sale in the slave market, one of the boys is sold as a Gladiator, the other as a field slave. They believe they will never see home or family again.
A world ablaze
But their destiny – interwoven and linked with that of their Roman masters – is to be an extraordinary one. The devastating war unleashed upon Rome by Hannibal, will last for nearly twenty years. It will change their lives – and history – for ever.
It’s been a good while since I read a Ben Kane, however, on the evidence of this magnificent, enthralling, captivating book, I’ve really been missing out and is something I intend to rectify – and quickly.
First of all, it’s a long one – it’s a good 150 pages before the man himself puts in an appearance, for example. However, there’s hardly a sentence, a word even, wasted the whole way through. I was glued to it the whole way through and by the end, I found myself wishing it had been twice as long. It’s long, but still too short. Good then that it’s the first volume in a trilogy. Gooder still…that I have the others lined up on the shelf over there.
To be honest, sometimes, (even) I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why I thought a book was so good. Then I think, does it even matter? No. At those times, maybe it’s just best to sit back and enjoy the ride. Then…’enjoy,’ that’s the point, isn’t it? I read to enjoy a good story about something I’m interested in. Or not, that makes me interested in it, because it’s a good book. That’s Hannibal.
So, what did I enjoy? Well, Ben Kane does have the (deserved) reputation – in my book anyway – for writing battle scenes that are perhaps a cut (!) above the others. However, excellent battle scenes apart, it was the verbal cut and thrusts, jabs straight to the heart – and of course the final delivery of the death blow – of the Senate debate scenes between Publius and Marcus Minucius Rufus that really impressed and will stay with me. The crackle of tension, the ebb and flow, the poise and grace, the delicate, ‘crikey, it could go either way here’ balance, leading us to the final coup de grace. Superb writing is superb writing, whatever the genre. And this, that, is superb writing.
I thought the tension between the Carthaginian brothers was 99% believable. There were a couple of minor occasions where they clearly, in the real world, have reacted differently. In making the people different to us, in that they lived 2,000-odd years ago, but clearly like us in many ways, so we relate to them, you surely have to, as a reader and a writer, stick with the thought ‘what would I do in that situation?’ Then when you’re absolutely sure that you and anyone you know, would have belted the other brother one, for instance, and he doesn’t, he says ‘fair enough, lets get on with it,’ it sticks a little. No matter.
Carthaginians and Romans are treated even-handedly. No good guys and bad guys. I suppose there could have been a temptation to treat the Carthaginians more favourably, as the underdog, perhaps, the Romans less so. I think Ben has avoided taking sides, to free the story – and himself – from the reader’s own perceived confines, with one eye on how the rest of the story has to unfold. Because the temptation of writing what at least I was expecting, the ‘plucky small guy up against the evil Empire’ must have been very great.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in my time, and especially of late, to read some truly exceptional books set at various points of the Roman era. Hannibal, Enemy of Rome continues that disturbingly good trend. Highly recommended.
Buy Hannibal, Enemy of Rome at The Book Depository