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.