The Falling Sword (Clash of Empires)

Written by Ben Kane
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

198 BC. The wolves of Macedon and Rome are circling, and the prize is Greece. Once a league of proud and independent city-states, Greece is now fractured and weak; the only question is: who will rule her: Philip of Macedon or the upstart Roman Republic under its ambitious general, Flaminius? Demetrios, fighting for Macedon, is a battle-hardened veteran whose main problem is the sneering Empedokles who has it in for him. On the Roman side, Felix has a dangerous personal secret to hide which, if discovered, could cost him his life – and his luck seems to be running out. The story, the second in Kane’s Clash of Empires series, cuts between Philip and Flaminius’s relationship: mutual respect on top and a fierce struggle for supremacy underneath; Demetrios’s attempts to avoid Empedokles; and Felix’s struggles to stay under the radar. The pace is fast and furious – and I was pleased to have the helpful maps and the glossary of things military. I’d have loved a list of characters, too.

The whole raison d’être of The Falling Sword is violence: men are tortured, gored, crushed and hacked. Blood is everywhere. As one (male) reviewer put it: ‘Every cough, spit, curse and gush of blood … pure man joy.’ I usually enjoy military fiction in a well-researched historical setting but, sadly, The Falling Sword offers little but violence. There are no ordinary non-combatants, to give the reader a sense of the world that is being lost. It was like showing the Battle of Britain as one continual dogfight without seeing people queuing for bread, firemen rescuing Blitz victims, or mothers agonizing about evacuating their children. The result is disappointingly one-dimensional. By the end, I’m afraid, I didn’t care who lived or died – and I should have done. I wanted to.