A much wiser man than myself once said, “Be patient. All good things come to those who wait.” For once, this aphorism rang true. After two weeks of fruitless trips to the mailbox, Ben Kane’s highly anticipated third novel in the Forgotten Legion Chronicles arrived at my doorstep. Like a petulant child presented with a birthday gift I tore open the packaging, removed The Road to Rome from its bubble-wrapped confines and immediately became enmeshed in the continuing saga of the twins, Fabiola and Romulus, and Tarquinius, the Etruscan soothsayer. Six hours and half a gallon of coffee later, I laid the book down, sad that it ended and hungry for more.
The Road to Rome begins right where The Silver Eagle left off: In Alexandria, Egypt where Romulus and Tarquinius have finally arrived following years abroad after serving in Crassus’ disastrous campaign to tame the Parthian Empire. Press-ganged into Caesar’s legions, Romulus and Tarquinius find themselves embroiled in the Roman Civil War. Forced to fight for their lives against overwhelming Egyptian forces, only the military genius of Caesar and the fighting spirit of his legions ward off annihilation. While Romulus fights for his life with the rest of Caesar’s small expeditionary force, his twin, Fabiola, sets sale from Alexandria and returns home with her lover, Marcus Decimus Brutus. Heartened by what she thought to be a fleeting glimpse of her brother, whom she believed dead along with the rest of Crassus’ ill-fated expedition, once back in Rome Fabiola continues with her obsessive quest to murder Caesar.
What makes The Road to Rome different from other historical novels involving Julius Caesar’s demise is the prism through which the drama unfolds. Convinced that Caesar is their father (the twins’ mother was raped by a Roman nobleman) and therefore responsible for her former life as a slave and prostitute, Fabiola becomes the catalyst for the plot to murder Caesar on the Ides of March. Using the wiles gleaned from a life of being forced to have sex with men against her will, Fabiola enlists the help of disaffected nobles such as Marcus Brutus and Cassius Longinus, even while she conducts an affair with Caesar’s most trusted lieutenant, Marcus Antonius, the deadly enemy of her lover. Finally, after years of separation and not truly knowing whether the other twin was alive or dead, the siblings are reunited after Romulus earns his freedom and fortune from none other than Julius Caesar himself. Fabiola wastes no time in recruiting Romulus into the conspiracy to murder Caesar, revealing to Romulus that Caesar was the noble who raped their mother. Faced with the complex emotions and moral conflict of having experienced slavery, life and death in the gladiator pits, the camaraderie of the legions and ultimately freedom and redemption, Romulus finds his relationship with his twin sister under the strain of this turmoil: Romulus loves and respects Caesar, but had previously sworn to kill the man responsible for the rape of their mother and their subsequent enslavement.
In sum, Ben Kane brilliantly weaves historical nuggets into a taut, riveting historical thriller sure to please those who like their history served with a side of fiction. And in case you are wondering whether you will had to have read the prequels to The Road to Rome, put your mind at ease. This book can stand alone without resort to the previous two novels in the The Forgotten Legion Chronicles, a quality this reviewer considers a must when assessing a series book.