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Spartacus: Swords and Ashes

By J.M. Clements
Review by Laura
Publisher: Titan Books 

Spartacus: Sword and Ashes is based on the hit TV series that dramatises the early formative years of the title hero. The series is into its second successful season despite being hit with tragedy when the show’s original lead Andy Whitfield died of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma before Season Two could be filmed. Whitfield was replaced by Liam McIntyre, who is seen on the cover of this novel looking very bloody, dirty and sexy.

Swords and Ashes is an original novel that runs parallel to events of the TV series, continuing the narrative of Spartacus the slave/gladiator using existing characters from the show and introducing a variety of new ones.

I haven’t watched any of the TV series so was apprehensive when asked to review the book as I thought I might not understand what was going on. However my fears proved to be unfounded. The characters and events in Swords and Ashes were developed enough that you do not have to have watch the programme to get a full appreciation on the story. Alternatively if you have watched the series you will be treated to a more in-depth treatment of slave/ gladiator Spartacus, his slave owner Batiatus, Batiatus’ femme fatale wife Lucretia and the others.

Swords and Ashes sees Spartacus, new Champion of Capau, and several of his fellow gladiators sent by Batiatus to fight in the funereal games of Pelorus, a wealthy man who was brutally murdered by a slave in his own house. Batiatus sees this as an opportunity to seize Pelorus’ estate and increase his social standing but soon finds himself in the middle of a political bout between Gaius Verres, the soon-to-be governor of Sicily and a young Cicero from Rome who is searching for new prophecies to aid the expansion of the Roman Empire.

This novel definitely lives up to the blurb on the back of the book, which promises blood, sex and politics set in the uncompromising visceral world of the arena. In the first chapter alone there is a drunken orgy, an attempted rape, vicious murder and the condemnation to death of a whole household of slaves. The fight scenes are brutal and gory with heads and arms being lopped off and guts busting everywhere but at the same time they are gripping and you connect with the combatants rooting for them to win/lose.  Similarly, the sex is Sword and Ashes is as brutal and combative as any of the fight scenes, this is no romance novel with candles and whispered sweet nothings. One memorable scene describes a male rape in blunt and harrowing terms.

J.M. Clements manages to successfully interweave the political scheming between Verres, Cicero and Batiatus in with the gladiatorial games, sex and murders. He has obviously done a lot of research into the period and this shows in his imagery and descriptive passages, which put you there in Ancient Italy.

I enjoyed reading Spartacus: Swords and Ashes as it fed both the adrenaline junkie and scholar in me. Personally some of the political wrangling towards the end of the book dragged a bit and I started to lose interest but Clements dragged my attention back by the end and left me wanting to read more. 

This is a well-written novel, which goes beyond its merchandising cash-in purpose. It should appeal to those who like fast paced action with a touch of historical relevance as well as those who like the TV series. The squeamish should avoid.

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