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The Man from Cannae by John Jakes

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The Man from Cannae by John Jakes

Post by parthianbow » Fri August 31st, 2012, 8:24 pm

Sheesh, where do I start with this book? I read about it on a list of historical fiction novels a few weeks ago. It was ostensibly about the Second Punic War, a subject dear to my heart, so I looked it up here. I guess the cover should have put me off, but I overrode my instincts. When it arrived, I finished it in a couple of days.

I recently read an article about Jakes in which it was stated that his publishers asked him to write a Roman novel because they were popular at the time. He did so in a very short space of time. Well, it shows. His research must have consisted of a book called 'Interesting facts about the Second Punic War', but little else. So on the first page, we have a Roman cavalryman, an officer in fact, using a pilum (a Roman javelin). Howler! On the second page, there are legionaries with a gold eagle. Howler! Worse than that, the main character is a commoner who has somehow become the prefect of a cavalry wing. Only noblemen rose to that position. Laughably, he gets demoted to the legions, is repromoted to his original position, demoted again and ends up as a centurion! There are Praetorians in Rome, when at that time they only existed as guards for army commanders; cohorts as well as maniples. I could go on, but my eyes have glazed over.

I could swallow some of those howlers if it wasn't for the dire plot, and the execrable sex. Women just fall into bed with the main hero - literally within half a page of meeting him. It's all snowy breasts in the moonlight and wonderful coupling, even when the hero is badly wounded. A couple of times he's captured and threatened with death by his own side, who don't recognise his accent as being Roman but think he's either a Carthaginian or a Greek. This, when he would have been a native Latin speaker while the races mentioned would not!

That said, the writing is decent enough, and a lot of the historical facts are accurate. If it hadn't been for that, I would have given it one star or less. As is, I rate it 1.5 stars out of five. This book would have been better marketed by Mills & Boon. Avoid it, unless that's your interest.
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

Twitter: @benkaneauthor

Posts: 4585
Joined: August 2008

Post by annis » Sat September 1st, 2012, 12:59 am

Lol! Yep, spot-on review, Ben. This is one of a series of popular potboilers written back in the day which were as much macho fantasy as historical fiction. They were a sort of offshoot of the pulp fiction genre. There's not an ounce of realism about any of the female characters - they exist purely as sex objects and are often treated very cavalierly by the heroes. Readers then lapped them up, but now they seem quite old-fashioned and terribly un-PC. Van Wyck Mason wrote a few doozies along these lines, like Barbarians and Lysander. Then there's Ronald Bassett's The Pompeians, clearly a sad, bad bunch of randy degenerates... Even Poul Anderson, (author of the fantastic Broken Sword reviewed by Carla above) did it with his historical adventures Rogue Sword and Golden Slave. I'm guessing that this particular style of historical novel was a good little earner for struggling novelists at the time, and provided a bit of income so they could write the good stuff. The fact that Jakes originally wrote his ones under the nom de plume Jay Scotland indicates that he didn't want them associated with his other work. Some, like Anderson's books and Ronald Bassett's The Carthiginian, have enough historical sensibility to make them worth tackling.

Of Jakes' JS novels I've read Arena and Veils of Salome as well as The Man From Cannae (aka Traitors' Legion), but wouldn't recommend them unless you're a tiger for punishment :)
Last edited by annis on Sun September 2nd, 2012, 8:31 pm, edited 21 times in total.

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