When starting any historical fiction, I always wonder where it stacks up when compared with Sharpe, Patrick O’Brian, Hornblower and Flashman. It’s fortunate, therefore, with Protector by Conn Iggulden, that one is in the hands of a master storyteller. Set in ancient Greece, and the sequel to Gates of Athens, this novel is covering a period that is ripe for a writer of Iggulden’s ability.
He has written about that epic period during the Graeco-Persian Wars of 480/479BC which is so dramatic, with mighty clashes between East and West. Persia, the greatest empire the world had known, up against Athens, a new democracy, and Sparta the legendary fighting force. The multi-hero story keeps the reader gripped from start to end as a variety of characters leap off the page: Themistocles, Xanthippus, Pausanias and Aristides all feature prominently and its enormous fun as Iggulden takes us into their minds as the Greeks fight for their lives against the Persian horde.
The novel opens with the Persians triumphantly entering Athens after Spartan resistance at Thermopylae had been overcome. The inhabitants have fled across the straits to the island of Salamis and, after the battle of Salamis is vividly described, we are taken to Sparta. It is Iggulden’s descriptions of the two rival poleis (city states) that really draws the reader in, as he’s cleverly used an Athenian in Sparta, and vice versa, to introduce the reader to the contrasting cities.
He has also managed to capture the horror Greeks felt, as the Persians marched through Attica, Boeotia and Thessaly without resistance. The Greek city states, at least those that resisted the demand for earth and water, were facing annihilation at the hands of Xerxes’ vast army. When one thinks about what the Athenians went through – city burnt, homes destroyed and populace made refugees, Iggulden has done brilliantly describing their plight.
Iggulden has proved himself many times over the years, but this ancient Greek novel is a joy to read. As we get to warmer weather finally, and lockdown is lifting, this is the ideal book to take on holiday, and drift back in time to ancient Greece.
You can read our interview with Conn Iggulden here.