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Arena by John Jakes

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parthianbow
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Arena by John Jakes

Post by parthianbow » Mon September 10th, 2012, 7:37 pm

I'd heard mention of this book and another by Jakes, The Man from Cannae, on a thread here (thanks, Annis!). I bought both together, and tackled The Man from Cannae first. It's somewhat of a wall banger, but I am glad that I read it first, because this book is better. If I'd read them the other way around, I would have been even less pleased at purchasing them.

It doesn't help that Cassius, the story's main protagonist, is one of the least likeable characters I've ever come across. He is vain, arrogant, and self-centred; moreover, he spurns the only female friend he has in favour of a hellion of a priestess. This love interest suffers the most dreadful depredations (as did the main female leads in the other book) but - mild spoiler - when she and Cassius are reunited, he feels little remorse. For a foundling who became an auctoratus, or contracted gladiator, he has an astonishing amount of confidence, holding his own with luminaries such as Nero, Seneca and the prefect of the vigiles, or urban watch. That was unbelievable enough, but the judo chop technique that he uses in the arena to disable big cats such as leopards and lions was the most laughable part of the whole book. I've had to write similar scenes, in which it's very hard to provide a believable account of how a man might survive such an encounter. Leopards can disembowel an animal with their back claws. Lions can break the bones of large antelope with their jaws. When Cassius fights them at close quarters, however, they cannot do this. A chop to their nether regions, and the cats are incapacitated long enough for him to deliver the coup de grace. This device, used twice at least, was totally and utterly implausible.

I'd given this book two stars. Why? The simple answer is that Jakes makes a decent fist of creating the world of Nero's Rome, the decadence, the backstabbing politics, the bloody games and so on. There were far less historical howlers than in The Man from Cannae, which was littered with them. His account of the death of Agrippina, Nero's mother, is well done, as are a number of other scenes. Still, I am glad that I bought this secondhand. I won't be reading any more of Jakes' books.
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

annis
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Post by annis » Mon September 10th, 2012, 8:10 pm

Posted by parthianbow
I'd heard mention of this book and another by Jakes, The Man from Cannae, on a thread here (thanks, Annis!)
Yeah right, eh? As per my comments about Man From Cannae (rinse and repeat) these were a particular style of macho fantasy/adventure which reflect the time in which they were written. The heroes were unreconstructed MCPs and the female characters beautiful, willing sex objects bearing little resemblance to real women.

It could be said that this sort of macho historical adventure still exists to some extent as a genre, just updated to suit today's X-Box-influenced tastes and generally more focused on blood-spattered graphic violence than sex :)

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parthianbow
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Post by parthianbow » Tue September 11th, 2012, 5:48 am

I know what you mean, Annis. ;) I also sincerely hope that my characters are more interesting and rounded than Jakes' are. (No need to answer that!)
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

annis
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Post by annis » Tue September 11th, 2012, 6:51 am

Rest assured, I definitely don't think your books fall into that category, Ben :)

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Tue September 11th, 2012, 2:31 pm

I know Jakes is better known for his Kent Family Chronicles (American Revolution on) and Civil War books. I read the first series and, for the most part, enjoyed it. However, Jakes had a bad habit...nearly every major female character got raped. Couldn't he come up with something new, occasionally, to torture his characters? I didn't bother with the Civil War books, so don't know if he continued the pattern.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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parthianbow
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Post by parthianbow » Tue September 11th, 2012, 8:04 pm

@Annis: Phew. Wipes brow. :)

@fljustice: I'm afraid that he did continue the trend. While it was an even more common crime in the past, I agree that to use it repetitively is boring/lazy.
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

annis
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Post by annis » Thu September 13th, 2012, 2:25 am

I forgot about JJ's enthusiasm for rape scenes - I should really have said "The heroes were unreconstructed MCPs and the female characters beautiful sex objects, willing or otherwise"!

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