Dark visions and fatigue plague the gladiators of the house of Batiatus.
September 13, 2012 3:28 pmGeorge Solomou
The events of the Spartacus: Morituri take place between Spartacus: Blood and Sand’s episodes six and seven with Crixus still bedridden from his confrontation with Theokeles, and Spartacus the new Champion of Capua, a title turned sour from his wife’s recent death. A wealthy merchant, Hieronymous, with aspirations of a lanista makes Capua his home. With him he brings a trusted advisor, Mantilus, an African with extremely dark skin, forked tongue, scars and milk-white eyes, and Marcus Crassus, one of the richest men in Rome, a battle-harden soldier and the new season’s main antagonist.
Hieronymous quickly sets up his own ludus with the patronage and advice of Crassus. His gladiators, the so-called Morituri ("Those about to die") make spectacle of Solonius’ men as the former manage to achieve easy victory. As the House of Batiatus prepares to face Hieronymous’ amateur gladiators, strange and gloomy visions seem to plague the men accompanied by extreme fatigue causing them to be clumsy, paranoid and constantly tired in the training grounds. Immediately, rumours of superstition spread around the ludus, with most of the gladiators believing that Mantilus is a creature of the underworld casting spells to weaken the warriors. With an invisible yet actual threat looming in the House of Batiatus, can Spartacus and the rest of the gladiators overcome this dire danger?
And of course the answer is yes because that’s the problem with tie-in novels, especially if they take place between events that have already transpired. But with the announcement that the next season of Spartacus will be the last, this second tie-in novel is a welcome addition to the much enjoyable yet limited Spartacus mythos created by Starz.
Putting aside the fact that there is imminent knowledge for the reader regarding the future of most characters (and thus no imminent danger) the novel is still enthralling in its own accord. At first I was apprehensive, believing that a novel would be a poor substitute for a show that is heavily based on its graphic visuals and lavish over-the-top performances, and at times, especially during the mercifully few sex scenes I found myself cringing in embarrassment. Sex will always be better on screen (even better live) than in a book. The first ten-twenty pages (that have the majority of said scenes) are relatively hard to follow with the established language of the show. The lack of pronouns and articles when characters are speaking make the reader even more conscious when descriptions follow in proper grammar.
Thankfully though as you get absorbed in the story the pages turn and flow smoothly. The third-person narrative also dives quite frequently into the characters’ minds and that sometimes doesn’t work in favour of the picture we have developed according to the actions and thoughts spoken in dialogue by the characters. Some of these glimpses might work in favour in as much as they follow their TV counterparts yet they offer nothing new to us since once again we know how events will turn out.
Other times they contradict what we already know and what we see; for example there’s a minor part in the beginning where Spartacus shares similar goals to Crixus, something that was rather briefly addressed later in the series. Another example is Oenomeus’ thoughts concerning Spartacus, thoughts of respect and even admiration for the person that drugged him on the eve of Sura’s arrival. A final point of things the novel is lacking was the heavy and intricate plotting the show is proud of. But then again considering the number of script writers available with a stretched budget, five to ten minds will always be better than one. At the end of the day this is pure entertainment and not high freaking literature.
The format of the novel offers a brand new perspective on how the story is addressed. Whereas splatters of blood and glorious action scenes may be what attracted most viewers, Morris’ descriptions are livid and multi-coloured, so much that in most action scenes in the arena the damn soundtrack kept crawling into my mind.
The details provided are a golden mean of description giving just the right amount of information without becoming tiresome. Novels by default allow that sort of escapism giving the reader just the setting or frame and letting one’s imagination paint the rest of the picture. With an author as talented as Mark Morris it is no wonder that most characters act and sound like the actors (yet not think like them in the two minor examples above). The character of Marcus Crassus, however brief, is a villain we can really look forward to meeting in the next and final season and the portrait created in this book is an ominous and imposing figure. Descriptions surrounding his persona, even if only assumed by his numerous victories and gathered wealth as written in history books are perfectly fitting for the man who crushed the slave uprising in Ancient Rome.
And the information doesn’t end there with a constant stream of subtle explanations. For example the architecture of villas, ancient customs or even the announcements from the arena’s podiums concerning the fighting style of the gladiators (Spartacus Thraex, Crixus Murmillo). The extra brush of mystery surrounding the plot is a fresh take in this fictional ancient world and I’m glad that the author managed to utilize that specific time’s beliefs into the story. While gods were constantly mentioned in the first season and some story lines played momentarily with dreams and visions, the whole air of mysticism and superstition evident in those times was not touched upon making it a missed opportunity in my opinion.
The book is clearly addressed to hardcore fans of the show and the joy comes from how that specific story, involving characters one might be emotionally invested in, will turn out and not from previous knowledge that comes from watching the end of the show. No grand additions were made into the overall mythology except perhaps from a few terms and descriptions concerning parts of the series we weren’t shown. Perhaps the biggest tease was the character of Marcus Crassus giving only the readers of this book some extra pre-air info. If the actor is half the character that Morris describes then the antagonist camp of the new season may be the best one yet.
Author brio from the book:
Mark Morris is the author of several novels, including Stitch, The Immaculate, The Deluge and four Doctor Who books. He also edited the award-winning Cinema Macabre, a book of fifty horror movie essays by genre luminaries. Most recently he wrote the official tie-in novel to zombie apocalypse computer game Dead Island and a novelization of the 1971 Hammer movie Vampire Circus.
|FIND YOUR GEEK RATING
out of 10