Review: Spartacus - Morituri / Author: Mark Morris / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now
Spartacus – you've seen the TV show, you've smelt the sandals, now read the book. Morituri takes place within the timeline of the first season, at the point when our hero has just become Champion of Capua. But some things never change, and his master Batiatus is running short of coin. Eheu! Which is Latin for “Bummer!”
It seems like a stroke of good fortune, then, when a wealthy Greek named Hieronymus moves into town. The bestie of Marcus Crassus, a biggus wiggus from Rome, he has the temerity to establish a rival school of gladiators under Batiatus' nose. But his men are inexperienced, and Batiatus' scheme is simple and foolproof. Crush these upstarts in the arena, fleece Hieronymus, and chum up to Marcus Crassus. Unfortunately, as the day of the contest approaches, Batiatus' gladiators fall prey to a wasting illness. Could it be witchcraft? Eheu maximus!
Fans of the TV series will feel right at home with the book's sexy and bloody content, but might be a little surprised by the mix of elements. Despite two lengthy set-piece battle scenes, the focus is more on debauchery than on disembowelment and on life upstairs with the masters rather than downstairs with the slaves. Batiatus – a highlight of the show – is easily the most colourful character on the page, fuming, plotting and swearing oaths on the private parts of all the deities on Mount Olympus. By contrast, Spartacus is almost a guest in his own book. At this stage of the timeline, he's under the impression that Batiatus has done the right thing by him in trying to reunite him with his wife Sura, and is thus content to be at the wily lanista's beck and call. And that's basically his role – to prop up the boss man, offering a strong arm, wise counsel and moral support, like Jeeves in a leather codpiece.
That's not the only problem. The dialogue in the book takes its cue from the second season and Gods of the Arena in regularly omitting the definite and indefinite article, i.e., “Needless death falls upon ludus.” This is a pity, because funny way of speaking gives reader headache. Also, the plot, which lacks the thumping great story arcs of the TV show, is rather small beer, or minumus vino, as those ancient Romans would say.
Yet despite these shortcomings, Morituri goes down like an oyster at a toga party, it's so slickly written by Mark Morris, who is probably best known for his Doctor Who novels, but who takes very lustily to this more red-blooded fare.