Book review: Hannibal: Fields of Blood by Ben Kane
You don’t have to be a dedicated follower of ancient Roman history to know the tale of Hannibal and his heroic journey over the Alps with a herd of war elephants.
But what happened to the famous Carthaginian military commander and his army of more than 40,000 men when they landed in the home territory of their ruthless enemy… and confronted the massed legions of the mighty Roman Empire?
Ben Kane, the master raconteur of all things Roman, takes up the enthralling story of Hannibal in the second book of his heart-pounding series which began with Enemy of Rome and moves here to the killing fields of Cannae.
And if bone-crunching action, history as it really happened and visual feasts of epic landscapes and brutal warfare float your boat, Fields of Blood is guaranteed to be 400 pages of storytelling heaven.
Although it has to be said that heaven is a long way from the hell depicted here as military magician Kane transports us to one of the bloodiest and most lethal battles in history.
In 216 BC, the Second Punic Wars are raging and Hannibal’s campaign to defeat Rome continues after a memorable victory at the Battle of the Trebia. A brilliant military strategist, the North African warrior has brought his army safely over the Alps in winter and is now marching south to confront the enemy.
With him is a young Carthaginian soldier Hanno who, like his great general, burns to vanquish Rome after his country’s ignominious defeat at the hands of the empire a generation ago. And the possibility of victory has never seemed so tantalisingly within reach since the world was turned on its head in one month of action.
Facing Hanno in the enemy ranks is his former friend, Quintus, whom Hanno met while in Roman captivity in Capua before escaping to reunite with his father and brothers and join Hannibal’s forces.
A bitter quarrel with his father has led Quintus to abandon his exalted position as an equestrian and join the Roman infantry under an assumed name. But among his legionaries, he finds that his enemies are not just the Carthaginians, but men of his own side.
Meanwhile, every Roman for a hundred miles is living in fear of his life since Hannibal’s stunning victory at the River Trebia and has fled to anywhere that has thick walls and a garrison to defend them.
A stealthy game of cat and mouse is being played out, with Hannibal seeking to fight and Rome’s generals avoiding battle. But warfare cannot be delayed for much longer and eventually, the two armies meet under a fierce summer sun in August in the south of Italy. The place is Cannae, the fields of blood, and Hanno and Quintus know they must fight as never before – just to stay alive.
An expert in historical research, Kane can’t put a foot wrong when he steps onto the ancient soil of the Roman Empire. Breathtaking action sequences, atmospheric backdrops so authentic that you can almost hear the battle cries and a cast of credible characters make history come alive in all its gory, gruesome and gripping reality.
There is genuine and vivid emotion here too … the blinding fear as troops mentally prepare for battle, the cruel fate of those men – and women – whose destinies are beyond their control and the tense anticipation of the savagery that must inevitably be unleashed.
Fields of Blood captures the past with intelligence, brute force and passion that comes with a capital P … roll on the next chapter!
(Preface, hardback, £14.99)