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MORITURI: Slow Start But Compelling Finish To Spartacus AdventureI’ll admit it: the first hundred pages of SPARTACUS: MORITURI had me convinced that I was wasting my time. After all, what makes SPARTACUS – the television program – such a winning experience is the visceral thrill of bloodshed, the sweaty bodies thrown back-and-forth in combat and in sport, coupled with some exciting drama besieged with so many duplicitous characters. As a viewer, you’re shocked by the brutality, you’re captivated by the beauties, and you’re intrigued by the betrayals. SPARTACUS remains a swords’n’sandals soap opera – one based loosely on the events of history – spun with a cinematic flair that elevates even the most mundane happenings to the level of human drama. It isn’t hard to see why the STARZ Network jumped at the chance to put in on the air, and it isn’t hard to fathom why its cadre of loyal fans might latch on to a series of books based on their favorite characters.After author Mark Morris could dispense with introducing his players and situations, MORITURI thankfully morphed into a great yarn – one beset with the same elements that make the TV show a sensation. So long as you don’t mind action sequences reduced to sometimes wordy sentences and paragraphs, you’ll find plenty to like in this guilty pleasure beach read.Set during the events of SPARTACUS’s first season (“Blood and Sand”), MORITURI picks up shortly after the legendary slave is first crowned the Champion of Capua with his defeat of Theokoles. Suddenly, a new noble comes to town – Hieronymus – and he comes bearing the support of the Roman politician, Crassus. To everyone’s surprise, Hieronymus sets up his own ludus, and, in his gladiators first outing, he decimates the reputation of the House of Solonius. Never one to shy away from new challenges, Batiatus commits Spartacus and his own league of fighters to a display in the arena … but will Hieronymus’s grim spiritual advisor, Mantilus, and an unexplainable plague spell certain doom for all involved?As stated above, I think Morris could’ve gone to greater pains in incorporate his new characters into SPARTACUS’s already very-full-bodied existence. This isn’t to say that his additions aren’t all that interesting; indeed, Mantilus is a brilliant creation, and there’s a new slave (Athenais) who serves as a visual reminder of how nefarious some ‘owners’ can be with their property. Hieronymus and his gladiators end up serving as (mostly) stock characters, while Crassus is given a bit of new exploration for the purposes of this tale. However, I felt the set-up and introductions went on far too long, keeping the reader away from the real heart of the tale, that being the legendary slave who will eventually lead a revolt. Spartacus is given short shrift in the opening 100 pages (or so), and that places a bit of a hurdle in front of the reader which doesn’t get rectified until later.Still, once the action starts, it’s all delivered with a crispness and an attention to detail. Morris clearly understands what draws fans to SPARTACUS, be it the bloodletting, the Bohemian approach to sex and sexuality, and the infinite backstabbing. All of that Morris gives great exposure, elevating the book to the point that it’d be easy to see MORITURI actually having taken place off-screen of those elements filmed for Season 1. Rather smartly, Morris sets much of the action at a time of upheaval for some of the secondary characters – Crixus is laid up in the infirmary, and, as such, gets little time but still manages to serve a role integral to the conclusion; Ashur is often off performing Batiatus’s bidding – and that presents the author with the chance to really hone in on the still-budding friendship between Spartacus and Varro.In fact, MORITURI is so strong an installment that I could make a suggestion: do more just like this. Figure out precisely when in the lives of these televised characters that other like-minded tales could be spun. One could make the case that, given Morris’s strengths as a writer, there could be some great value in adapting some of the morality plays of the individual episodes into novels as well. Certainly, there’s enough fodder here for new stories; but – without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t/doesn’t watch the TV program – not all of these characters will be around forever. Making the best of them when they are around could be a tremendous challenge to anyone attempting further franchise novels, but, if they’re half as good as MORITURI, I’d definitely be on-board as a regular reader.No, it ain’t perfect. Parts of MORITURI feel a bit rushed – maybe the author was rushing to make a publication date? – and there are parts that, quite frankly, felt a bit rote. Still, it worked. As characters, Spartacus and his enemies and allies make for some very compelling narratives. Once the show vanishes from the airwaves as it must (Googled the real Spartacus if you’re inclined for a brief lesson in history), I’d be thrilled to see some of these folks get new lives maybe even in novels detailing the greater backstories. It may never happen, but it wouldn’t hurt if anyone at Titan Books is interested.RECOMMENDED. It’s a franchise novel, told with the same care and attention given to most franchise efforts, and SPARTACUS: MORITURI hits all the right notes: there’s ample danger, intrigue, suspicion, sex, violence, and then some to interest (at least) fans of the STARZ Network Original Series and maybe (at best) win a few converts. I went into it with no expectations, and I came out of it definitely pleased, definitely sated. No, it’s not as good as the TV show, but it’s a filling substitute, all-the-same. If nothing else, it’s a respectable way to pass the time while waiting for the program to return for its fourth (and final) season.In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the good folks at Titan Books provided me with a reader copy of SPARTACUS: MORITURI for the expressed purposes of completing this review.

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