Historical Fiction Second Punic War
August 216 BC
Hannibal’s campaign to defeat Rome continues as he marches south to confront his enemy.
With him is a young soldier, Hanno.
Like his general, Hanno burns to vanquish Rome. Never has the possibility seemed so likely.
But a stealthy game of cat and mouse is being played as Rome’s generals seek to avoid confrontation.
Eventually the two armies meet under a fierce summer sun. The place is Cannae – the fields of blood.
The battle will go down in history as one of the bloodiest ever fought, a battle in which Hanno knows he must fight as never before – just to stay alive.
The real art with books like this, where anyone with half an interest in history can tell you that Hannibal lost, eventually, is how to write the story fresh, exciting and even how to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. I always remember reading Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal and being held captive, kept guessing and on the edge of my seat – even though I am/was old enough to know that De Gaulle didn’t die in that way at that time. So I think it says much about the quality of Ben Kane’s writing that he pulls off the story with ease. It’s exciting, it flows like a river in spring flood, it’s sometimes tense, mostly thrilling, always well-worth reading.
I suppose there is a slight familiarity breeding comfort-type feeling. I wasn’t as blown away as I was reading the first, but that’s only because by the second (of three) I know the characters, the story so far and so it would really have to be a monumental work to throw me off a cliff like that did. It is however, at least on a par with the first, maybe not better, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s job is to get us from book one and set up the third in the trilogy, which will of course see Hannibal, or Rome, win, or lose…
I have been surprised by these two books. I’m not sure why really. I’ve read Ben Kane’s work before, but maybe long enough ago to have forgotten what a superb writer he can be. I was also surprised, after book 1, that he could do it again. I shouldn’t have been. The good characters are still with us and are developing nicely. I still feel a bit frustrated that Hanno doesn’t stick on on (one of his) older brother(s), but there you go. I’m not really sure how his part in this will end, and that’s as it should be. The climactic battle at Cannae is handled really well – Giles Kristian had better watch out there. Aurelia is the chief character on the Roman side and she has developed to be a cut above a lot of the women characters in Hist Fic books like this. Still, BK has always has written strong – and interesting – female characters. And I think possibly one of the main reasons why I’m liking these books so much is, that the religion ‘everything in the hands of the gods’ nonsense is pretty much kept to a minimum.
My only quibble is, that he could have looked a bit more at why/how Hannibal inspired such devotion and loyalty in his troops. An inspired General, isn’t enough. The Cannae tactics aren’t earth-shatteringly different to do it, I didn’t feel. Why the Carthaginians is obvious, but as this is the Second Punic War, only a generation after the first, where the Carthaginians haven’t had time to replenish their armies with Carthaginians and have to take in mercenaries and allies, I think I’d have liked a bit more in that direction. However, the books aren’t really about who Hannibal was and why and that would be too restrictive for BK, I’d guess. Here, he wants to tell the tale and its background from the point of view of those who fought and were affected by it, which is, as ever, open to discussion and interpretation. If he tried to write about Hannibal, he’d no doubt suffer from Scholar-Attack, as all the dusty old professors who have devoted their lives to the study of Hannibal, would pop up to poo-poo his conclusions. Better to shoot high, aim low – as Yes once said. My other qui…my TWO quibbles are all that, and an occasional feeling that he spreads himself a little thin over the social media. I agree that it is a superb way of interacting with your readership, potential readership as well, However, one gets the feeling sometimes, that he barely has time to do what after all IS his job, that of writing books. Hence the “today’s 5,000 word target reached!”– type posts here and there. What I read – and to be fair to BK, it isn’t just him, other writers are infected with this disease – “switched the Writing Machine on for a couple of hours while I went out on a bike ride, gave a talk, walked for charity, got back and, hey presto! 5,000 words done. Let’s send it off and see if the Agent can make a book out of it!” Remember knitting? Your Gran used to sit there twiddling wool into incredible knots with skill built up over generations and handed down to her from her mum and her mum’s mum…and then those knitting machines? Where someone like me (if I’d had the interest) could have connected some wool to it and moved the shuttle thing from left to right and a couple of hours later, there’s a jumper! I could write 5,000 words in a day, no bother. The’d be absolute shite, but I could do it alright. I’d be fine if an author posted “wrote 17 words today – but they’re the result of 8 hours hard work and they’re the best 17 I’ve ever written!” I’d buy that book! It’s about quality, not quantity. And a book doesn’t have to reach a certain number of words before it’s ‘a book.’ Nor is it finished, just because it has reached a certain number of words. I don’t want that. Personally, I’d like to feel that BK does all these other things after he’s sweated over the writing of the book. Partly because if his books are excellent as it is, think how they’d be if he put his mind to it? Or at least, I’d like to get the impression he was books first, all the other, fourth and fifth. Just me. Buy this one, and the one before, they’re excellent.
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