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Two gladiators, a soothsayer and a prostitute seek freedom and revenge in Kane's sword and sandal epic that starts strong but runs adrift after too many bloody battles. While Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus struggle for control of Rome, Romulus and Fabiola, the illegitimate children of a slave raped by a nobleman, run afoul of their master and are sold off; Romulus to gladiator school and Fabiola to the city's fanciest brothel. Romulus is trained by Brennus, a fearsome gladiator whose family was slaughtered by the Roman army. Across the Forum, Fabiola, soon a favored courtesan of the social elite, vows to save her brother from certain death and to destroy the man who fathered her. After a fatal accident outside the brothel, Romulus and Brennus flee the city, joining up with Tarquinius, an Etruscan warrior who can glimpse the future. The trio enlists in Crassus's army as they prepare to invade the Parthian Empire, a military action that quickly turns disastrous. Though the cliffhanger ending is oddly underwhelming (a sequel is in the works), readers into Roman intrigue and epic violence will consider Kane's debut promising. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.