Lair of the Geek

Bringing you all the geek stuff

Mark Morris – Spartacus: Morituri

Titan Books £6.99
Review By: David Stonehouse

The hit Starz series Spartacus has used the setting of ancient Rome as an excuse for a cheerful TV festival of gratuitous sex, violence and swearing. While no one is likely to start claiming that they watch it for the intellectual challenge it is pretty hard to deny that it is enormous, guilty, visceral fun. The question here really is whether a novel is going to be able to capture the same energy and excitement. It’s a tall order as much of the pleasure of the show comes from the spectacular visuals and fast paced action. Fortunately, for the most part, Mark Morris has done a pretty good job.

The story is a one of adventure that slots into the series mythology neatly enough. Thracian Gladiator Spartacus fights for the ludus of Batiatus and has defeated all opponents to become Champion of Capua. He still mourns his dead wife Sura and is a brooding monosyllabic presence. Capua is being visited by Crassus, a rich and powerful Roman citizen who views the provincials with disdain. There is also a Greek called Hieronymus who has a ludus of his own. He is challenging all comers with his fighters, the Morituri, and they are defeating everyone put in front of them. Before each contest Hieronymus’ opponents seem to sicken and weaken. Rumours abound that spirits from the underworld are being summoned by the cadaverous shaman Mantilus to curse the gladiators so they cannot fight. When Batiatus’ ludus is challenged he ends up entering into a foolish wager that could cost him all his possessions, property and fortune. The situation becomes even more perilous when Spartacus and his fellow gladiators begin to be afflicted with debilitating sickness and hallucinations. Unless they can find a way to resist the Greek’s curse before they walk into the arena they will certainly all be slaughtered.

The familiar characters are all present and correct. Morris recreates them very well so they are consistent with their on-screen counterparts. The gladiatorial action is suitably bloodthirsty with plenty of contests described in vicious detail. There’s a real sense of historical detail as well. The different classes of gladiator and their fighting styles and are presented convincingly. The interplay of the characters is fun with the bitter rivalry between the ludus owners emerging in barbed comments and little tantrums. The female characters take great pleasure in winding each other up with their bitchy sniping and cruel comments. In fact, the alien morality of this cruel society is one of the most enjoyable things about Spartacus. This translates really well into text with some moments that are really enjoyable because they would be so completely outrageous in our society. One brilliant example comes early in the book when Batiatus and his wife Lucretia are having a chat about household matters. Nothing peculiar about that you might think, except that the Batiatus is getting sucked off by a slave girl during the whole exchange and Lucretia never bats an eyelid. Marvellous.

There are a couple of misfires. The solution to the ‘mystery’ is so transparently obvious that it’s almost embarrassing and the conclusion of one of the character’s stories is so out of context with the harsh Roman morality of the rest of the book that it just feels silly. Oddly, the ‘broken English’ that adds so much to the brutal atmosphere of the series actually really grates on the page making anything but the shortest conversation a bit of a chore to read.

Spartacus: Morituri captures the essence of the series pretty well. It’s a fun stand-alone romp of an adventure with familiar characters and healthy lashings of swearing, sex and brutal violence. What’s not to like about that?

2 thoughts on “Mark Morris – Spartacus: Morituri”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *