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Review: The Gates of Athens – Conn Iggulden

Review by Garth Johnstone

I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing a number of Conn Iggulden books over the years, so when The Gates of Athens landed on my desk I was like the cat that got the cream.

I first encountered Iggulden, a history specialist, about 15 years ago, when the first in his epic series of books on Rome and Julius Caesar, The Gates of Rome, arrived for review at The Mercury. As someone who loves history-based books I gobbled it up and then kept a beady lookout for any further Iggulden titles, including the rest of that series, his series on Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Wolf of the Plains, Lords of the Bow etc, and one title in his series on the War of the Roses.

I’ve enjoyed them all. The key to Conn Iggulden’s endurance and popularity is his ability to deliver a story accurately based on historical accounts, possibly with a bit of embellishment, while turning it into a ripping old yarn. His writing is unashamedly macho, with plenty of heroes, battles and conquests, plus the usual intrigue, backstabbing and one or two epic meltdowns. He does occasionally throw in a strong woman or two but this is not his strongest suit.

Lives are expedient

The reality of life more than 2400 years ago is not papered over… conditions can be grim, lives are expedient, it’s still, to a large degree, a male dominated society, and (not unlike today) political leaders use war as a tool to achieve their ends, regardless of loss of limb and life (sound familiar?).

In The Gates of Athens Iggulden does not disappoint. It’s formulaic, but we love it. As far as I know, his account is largely historically accurate.

Review: Circle of Death by Chris Ryan

As Xerxes of Persia assembles the world’s largest army to crush the Greeks once and for all, and avenge his father’s loss at Marathon, the Athenians must scramble to unite the various Greek parties and muster together an army and fleet strong enough to withstand the storm.

Xanthippus (the chief hero of the tale) and Aristides return from exile to help lead the Greeks in their defence in a desperate battle to save their people from extinction. As the subtext to the title states, “If you want freedom, prepare for war!”

A brilliantly crafted 440 pages of action. Highly recommended.

Review: Blood Stone by Irna van Zyl

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