Titan Books, 297pp paperback, £6.99 cover price
Reviewed by R A Bardy (@mangozoid)
Spartacus Morituri is a spin-off tale based on Starz’ very popular and violently brutal Spartacus TV series. Written by Mark Morris, this Spartacus tie-in delivers a wholly believable tale of a rival lanista setting up another ludus in the backyard of Batiatus’ beloved Capua. And if I’ve lost you already, you may well struggle with this. Fans of the series will love it, however.
Batiatus is basically the lanista (owner) of the gladiator/slave school (called a ludus) in which Spartacus reigns supreme as the Champion of all Capua, over and above all the gladiators from rival ludii in town – the other main ludus is owned by Solonius. This is a tale about Hieronymous, a Greek ex-merchant who blunders into Capua with ideas above his station, aiming to compete on level terms with his rival lanistas (lanistae?), with the full financial backing of a rather dour chap called Marcus Crassus, a highly-strung fellow with lofty aims of his own, towards higher and higher social standing in Rome. Of course, this is also Batiatus’ deepest desire, but he’s now got two rivals to contend with, and starts feeling the pressure pretty sharp-ish, especially when he has to sit tight and watch half his gladiators get destroyed by clearly inferior competition.
Of course, nothing’s clear-cut in this dark tale of deception and counter-deception, but I think Mark Morris does an excellent job of evoking the atmosphere and feel of the TV series, and thus carries things along speedily. There is just one very tiny part of this story that didn’t sit comfortably with me, and I have already resolved to take it up personally with the author when I get the chance, as I’d like to hear his view on the subject. That said, all the characters herein are bang-on, their hidden motives and deeper desires all captured brilliantly, and they are to all intents and purposes the very same people we have already met in the gripping Spartacus TV series.
One of the aspects of the series I always found a little contrived was all the swearing and cursing (“Shall I bend over and take cock in ass from the Gods once more?” is a Batiatus classic when things aren’t going his way, for example), so some of the language is tough to grasp because it has a form and dialect that’s hard to latch onto… until you’ve watched several episodes in a row, that is. I don’t envy the author in trying to meet the challenge of conveying this, but I do take my hat off to him, because I believe he gets it right the majority of the time, and far from pulling me out of the narrative I felt the dialogue dragged me in deeper, making me believe that what I was reading on the page could so easily be the script for the next Spartacus mini-series. I don’t believe any tie-in author could ask for greater praise, so this is an easy one for me, and should be for you too.
If you’re a fan of any of the Spartacus TV mini-series then this book comes highly recommended, and if you’re not, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you in to take a look around – you never know, you may just like it. Well done, Mark.
* This review originally appeared on the British Fantasy Society website here