Monday, 30 June 2014

Review: Hannibal: Enemy of Rome (Hannibal 1), by Ben Kane

This is the last of the books I got for Christmas, and I just finished it recently. As the name suggests, it's historical fiction, a genre I used to read quite a lot (mostly Bernard Cornwell) but which I haven't really touched for some time. Hannibal's one of my favourite historical figures, which made me somewhat wary (doing justice to a colossus of history is nigh on impossible).

I had very mixed feelings about the book. Concisely, the plot moves at a cracking pace, it's broadly historically accurate (the useful section at the back enables the author to point out where he deliberately altered things for the sake of the plot), the characters are often two-dimensional, and the writing (whilst always clear) can be a bit simplistic.

The two main characters are Hanno, a young Carthaginian, and Quintus, a young Roman. The two are pretty similar in social terms, until Hanno ends up enslaved and sold to Quintus just as the Second Punic War is about to kick off. There are various coincidences, but unless the plot were to focus on real world key players (they feature but are not the focus) then it necessarily has to be so. Hanno and Quintus are more well-rounded than most other characters, but not especially deep.

There was also a ton of head-hopping. There was no consistent focus on a single character's perspective in a given scene/chapter, so we continuously learn what's in the head of character A, then B, then C. It's a little strange. I'm not particularly bothered by head-hopping, but if you are then this could perhaps put you off.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of the book was the cracking pace. There's never a feeling of waiting around for something interesting to occur, or that a section is padding to bulk out the book.

The mini-bibliography at the back was useful (I was pleased to see Theodore Dodge near the top of the list), and if/when I decide to buy something new on the subject I'll probably check it again for ideas.

Hannibal: Enemy of Rome is a fast-paced, light read that's enjoyable but not especially deep or challenging.


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