Spartacus: Rebellion begins where Spartacus: The Gladiator left off, with Spartacus and his army of gladiators and slaves having defeated the praetor Claudius Glaber, as well as every other legion Rome has thrown their way. But the hotheaded Crixus and many of his Gauls have broken away from the army to try to face the consular legions of Lucius Gellius on their own, and another faction of Gauls are threatening to further fracture the slave rebellion. Meanwhile, Spartacus is torn between leading his troops – many of whom want to stay in Italy and fight the Romans – and the desires of his pregnant wife Ariadne, who would like nothing more than to cross the Alps and escape Rome forever.
A good bit of the novel involves the famous battles between Spartacus and the Romans, including the consular legions of Gellius and Lentulus, and ultimately the army of Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man in Rome and one of its most ruthless leaders. As in Spartacus: The Gladiator, the battle scenes are gripping and viscerally portrayed. But some of my favorite parts of the novel involved a series of reconnaissance missions by Spartacus’ sidekick, a young Roman-turned-gladiator named Carbo who played a major role in the first novel. Spartacus even joins Carbo on one of these missions, a secret trip into the heart of Rome to try to kill Crassus.
Crassus takes center stage in this novel as the primary antagonist. A good deal of the book is told from his point of view, and some of the book’s best scenes concern his political dealings in the Roman senate with his ally, a young Julius Caesar. Caesar’s role in this book was more limited than I had hoped, especially since the author develops him early as an interesting character. Crassus, however, is compelling enough on his own to make a more than worthy adversary for Spartacus.
The climactic battle between Spartacus’ army and Crassus’ legions is intense. Told mostly from Carbo’s point of view, the reader gets a real sense of how terrifying and exhausting it would be to fight in a Roman shield wall. While even casual students of history know how Spartacus’ rebellion ended, Kane does a fantastic job with the ending, and pulls it off in a way that keeps the reader guessing. A lengthy denouement proved to be one of my favorite parts of the story, and it provided a worthy and satisfying conclusion to the series. By the end, I think I enjoyed this book even more than its predecessor, but the series is really a single story split into two parts. And for anyone interested in the story of Spartacus, Ben Kane’s two-part series is a must-read!