Review: The Risen

The Risen: A Novel of SpartacusThe Risen: A Novel of Spartacus by David Anthony Durham

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Tell me, who is this man who was once an infant born where the plains meet the Rhodopes Mountains? The boy whose father took him on horseback to show to the gods and who heard the child’s name whispered by them? Remember that name? It’s a large name. The father said it was not a name for the child who was but for the man who would be.”

Expansive, epic, and deeply personal–The Risen tells the story of the Spartacus uprising through the eyes of characters on both sides of the conflict. In a manner akin to A Song of Ice and Fire the narrative moves among the various players in the larger struggle. This movement paints a grander picture than any one–or few–characters could provide. It delves into the impact of the war on all those who are touched by its hope and brutality.

In shifting the point of view, the narrative acts more as a collage of experiences–moving backward and forward through time as each character takes the center for their key moments–all while the central narrative marches dramatically forward. In this way, the novel is not only the story of Spartacus. Though he is the driving force of the events, the title of The Risen speaks to the significance of the others who also play a role in the conflict. At its core, it is a story of people who seek to throw off the oppression of those who judge them inferior, who seek to chart their own path toward hope and freedom.

But even in this narrative of hope and community, Durham does not shy away from the brutal realities of war. His writing does not revel in the brutality–as some narratives might–but neither does it ignore the ugly realities of warfare. The heroes and villains alike are painted in great detail–with their faults and failings displayed as much as their strengths. And as much as Spartacus and his uprising achieve a mythic status in certain moments, so Durham also looks to the seemingly insignificant players in the narrative–to see them for their hope and fears, and for the remarkable things that they too can contribute.

The novel opens dramatically, and unfolds in broad scope that never loses sight of the human players at its center. And even with the story’s bold start, the narrative builds steadily in tension all the way to the final, dramatic conclusion.

It is a novel that is brutal and tender, dark and hopeful, harsh and beautiful. Durham’s careful control of the narrative is evident from the very start, and draws the separate elements of the story together to create a remarkable work of historical fiction that unfolds with raw humanity and great emotional impact which echoes beyond the novel’s end.

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