Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden recounts ten pivotal years in ancient Greek history

This rousing series opener brings ten pivotal years in ancient Greek history to energetic life. Spanning from the Battle of Marathon in 490 BCE to the Spartans’ valiant stand at the Battle of Thermopylae, the story moves nimbly among the perspectives of Athenian leaders, primarily the politician and general Xanthippus, plus their allies and Persian foes. 

A celebrated historical adventure writer, Iggulden (The Falcon of Sparta, 2019) illustrates both large-scale military maneuvers and minute details, from close-up views of bronze-armored Greek soldiers in formation to fearsome scenes of the immense Persian fleet, bent on destroying Athens. 

The intervening decade between major battles in the ongoing Greco-Persian Wars holds equal fascination as Athens is shaken by infighting that divides its statesmen. These inner political workings are vividly personified via courageous, intelligent, well-rounded characters. 

Iggulden has impressive command of period terminology and largely follows the historical record, filling in gaps with well-thought-out reasoning. This is also an inspiring read about the value of democracy, whose birthplace was classical Athens, and how people fought hard and long to preserve it for posterity.

The Gates of Athens was published in the US on January 5 by Pegasus, and I reviewed it for Booklist's Dec. 15th issue (reprinted with permission).  

Other notes: This book was a revelation. Historical military adventure isn't normally my thing, but this novel is much more than that. It focuses on character development and theme as much as technical details and who-does-what-to-whom. Readers seeking nonstop action may be disappointed by the middle sections that delve into Athenian politics and how its policies were implemented, such as the process by which men could be forced into exile.  Reading it as a PDF on my iPad turned out to be a great advantage, too, since for any unfamiliar terminology I encountered, I could highlight a term, and I had my choice of the Kindle's internal dictionary or Wikipedia for a definition. There was no glossary in my ARC. My appetite is whetted for book two.


  1. Thank you for a very interesting review, on an intriguing subject.

    1. I agree, it is intriguing. Aside from the parts focusing on Thermopylae, the subject was new to me as far as reading about it via historical fiction.