Protector by Conn Iggulden

The battle of Salamis. Athens is burning and its inhabitants have taken refuge at the island of Salamis. At the head of a large fleet Themistocles, Cimon and Xantippus are still trying to get the odds in their favour and defeat the Persian king Xerxes. Themistocles’ wits and some luck do the trick, but a large number of Persians move inward. Athens is rebuilding from the ashes but they will need the help of the Spartans to survive. And after the death of their battle king Leonidas, it’s unsure whether they will stand with them or not.

This is the second novel in the Athenian series of Conn Iggulden, telling the tale of the Persians Wars and the Peloponnesian War. I did enjoy ‘the gates of Athens‘ that ends with the fantastic first part of the battle of Salamis. Protector continues the story of this battle and I was immediately drawn into the action.

I had some trouble with getting to know the different characters during the first novel, but this second part felt like a happy reunion with some favourite characters. I definitely prefer Protector over Gates of Athens because it offers more direct action and some interesting character building.

I also liked how the first novel offered insight into the democracy in Athens, whereas this one learns you more about Sparta. You can feel the differences between both realms that will bring them to the other side of the battlefield in the future (I believe the Peloponnesian War will be the topic of the next book in this series?).

The battle of Plataeae is the ‘piece the resistance’ of the novel. My favourite character is Aristides and I loved to experience the battle from his perspective. I also enjoyed the ending, it offers already some closure. There is a new generation coming up for the next book(s). The characterization of Pericles is promising.

I never thought I would find these ancient Greek wars so immersive, but Iggulden has a talent for writing battle scenes and political intriges that will get you on the edge of your seat.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to provide me with a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s your favourite novel set in ancient times?

The gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

490 B.C. The Persian army is ready to invade Greece. In Athens, they won’t welcome another dictator as they have beaten the last one decades ago with Sparta’s help. Now every free man has a vote in their democratic political system. Xanthippus, Aristides, Miltiades and Themistocles are all ‘strategos’ who will lead their people to war. They send word to Sparta and the other Greek cities for help. The two armies will meet at the battle of Marathon. It’s the start of a war between two kingdoms and a power struggle between Athens and Sparta that will have a mark on Greece for years to come.

I loved Iggulden’s Emperor series about Caesar and Brutus so much that I definitely want to reread it someday. But strangely, I haven’t picked up any other book from this author until now. Not even his books about the Wars of the Roses.

The gates of Athens is the first part in a new series about the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, although in this book the focus is on the war with king Darius and his son Xerxes of Persia. I’m not quite familiar with this history and haven’t studied Greek in high school (only Latin). So it took me some time to get to know all the names and the setting.

The story focuses on two great battles, and thus reminded me of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon series. The battle of Marathon is the big event during the first 100 pages. After the battle, we go back to Athens and the story starts focusing on the lives of the main characters and the political intriges in the city. This was the part I enjoyed most as I learned a lot about how the democracy in Athens worked. I found the voting system, where every free man could write a name on a piece of broken pottery to banish him for 10 years, especially interesting.

The story is a bit slow and I read this one in a week that I couldn’t really focus on anything, so I couldn’t give it all the attention it deserved. But that isn’t Iggulden’s fault. He’s a great storyteller. His battle scenes are epic and his character development is terrific.

No doubt, I’ll pick up the next book in the series, but in the meantime I might finally start with Stormbird, his first book about the Wars of the Roses.

Rating: 4 out of 5.