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The Forgotten Legion  - Ben Kane At best, I have a layman's interest in Ancient Rome. But I came across this novel in the downtown bookstore a few weeks ago, thumbed through its contents, was intrigued, and bought it.

This is the first novel in a trilogy. There are 4 principal characters who are at the heart of the story. Tarquinius is an Etruscan proud of his heritage, who has been schooled in the ancient arts of divination by Olenus, a wise and resourceful teacher and mentor. He lives with his parents as slaves on a large estate on what was the ancient Etruscan lands, now firmly incorporated into the Roman Republic. His master is Caelius, a selfish, pompous, and impetuous red-headed fellow.

Eventually, the life that Tarquinius has known is turned upside down because of the hated Romans and he has to leave home. He wanders for many years, spends some time as a legionary in the East, and eventually makes his way to Rome, where he eks out a living for several years.

Romulus and Fabiola are twin brothers and sisters born in slavery in Rome. Their mother devotes her life to protecting and nurturing them as best she can. Romulus, as a young teen, befriends a tall and powerfully built Nubian slave, who teaches him in secret some special fighting moves. But one night, he is found out by another slave, who tells Gemellus, Romulus' fat and arrogant master, of what he has seen. Consequently, Romulus is sold to a gladiator school and Fabiola is sold into prostitution in one of the most prestigious brothels in Rome, which is frequented by the most distinguished members of Roman society. Their mother is grief-stricken.

While learning through trial and error how to survive as a gladiator, Romulus makes the acquaintance of Brennus, a Gaul who had been a proud and most courageous warrior who was captured (following the destruction of his tribe and homeland) and sold into slavery.

Brennus, in comparison to most Romans, is a giant of a man, with long blonde hair and a powerful physique. He makes a name for himself as one of the most successful and celebrated gladiators in Rome.

One night, Brennus and Romulus sneak out of the gladiator school and have a night on the town in a bar with all kinds of characters, legionaries and citizens alike. Unfortunately, both got into trouble, which led to the death of a rich Roman who had accosted them at the entrance to a brothel. So, they fled from Rome and travelled far to the south, to Brundisium, where they enlisted in the Roman Army under the command of Crassus, one member of the triumvirate that rules the Republic. (Crassus, though no military leader on the level of the other 2 men forming the ruling triumvirate of the Republic --- i.e. Pompey Magnus and Julius Caesar --- is anxious to win a major battle in the East and thus displace Pompey and Caesar and become the sole ruler of Rome.)

Shortly before sailing from Italy, Romulus and Brennus make the acquaintance of Tarquinius and through their subsequent trials and tribulations in Parthia, form a deep and indissoluble bond.

This is a story of epic scope, well-paced, which leaves the reader anxious to know what will happen in the second novel of the trilogy. For that reason, I recommend "The Forgotten Legion" to anyone who wants to lose him/herself in a story that is a grand adventure with a rich and diverse variety of characters. (What's more: for those readers who are fans of Ancient Rome, the author uses, from time to time, a variety of Latin words unique to the period whose meanings are explained in an accompanying glossary.)