Book Review: Protector (Athenian series, #2) by Conn Iggulden

Book Review: Protector (Athenian series, #2) by Conn Iggulden

 

Protector by Conn Iggulden

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Published: 13th May 2021 (Michael Joseph)

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Picking up where The Gates of Athens left off, Protector launches the reader right back into the thick of war..

The situation is desperate. The people of Athens have fled from the advancing Persian army- the woman and children evacuated to safety, men conscripted to the fleet. Now, their city burns. But the Athenians are down, not out. Their navy remains strong and there’s hope that Sparta might, finally, come out from behind its wall. Only working together can the Greeks hope to stand against the overwhelming numbers of the Persian forces. Anything other than a definitive victory will mean utter destruction. What happens next will change the world as they know it…

 

The best bits…

Of course, we know the outcome, but Iggulden works effectively to create a sense of impeding doom, the possibility that everything might go fatally wrong. It’s easy to forget the terrifying uncertainty people faced at the time and that’s what the author does so well here, both in the politicking and in the heat of battle. As in The Gates of Athens, the battles at sea and on land are brutal. Before, it was Marathon, Thermopylae, and Artemisium, now we have Salamis and Plataea. While it was the naval clashes at Artemisium that amazed in the last book, here that award goes to the land battle at Plataea. It is stunning. The action is cinematic, the fighting intense and bloody. The perspective switches between Aristides and Mardonius, allowing the reader to feel the ratcheting tension as each side wins or loses each engagement. Then comes the moment when the Spartans join the fight… the power of it is enough to stop your breath. The Persians had already seen what 300 Spartans and their allies could do, imagine what they felt seeing 10,000 more…

What could have been better…

For all the excitement of the action scenes, Protector struggles to provide the same emotional impact as the first book. The problem is twofold. The first is the small amount of time we get to spend with any of the characters. The nature of the story means that it is necessary to use multiple perspectives, but there’s also a good deal of head hopping, which makes it harder to connect to any of the characters. This was somewhat of an issue in book 1, but the focus on Themistocles and Xanthippus in particular allowed the reader to feel like they really understood them, even if neither was an easy man to like. For the most part, Protector relies heavily on the emotional links built up in the first book, but it does little to reinforce them. This feeds in to the second problem. To get in all the important moments means jumping around a fair amount. Without the impactful characterisation, the narrative feels bitty, especially when it comes to wrapping up certain stories at the end. The history means that having an entirely satisfying ending was unlikely, yet finding out what happens to the main characters is anti-climactic at best. This book had bled out all my care for them and that was more disappointing than anything else.

So what comes next??

Well, Iggulden isn’t ending the story here. While he doesn’t talk about what’s coming in the next book, there’s a section in the Historical note at the end where the author refuses to name his favourite source for the period… I wonder if that might be Thucydides? If so, we can expect the next novel to take us into the Peloponnesian War. Or perhaps the period between the Greco-Persian Wars and the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.

If that’s the aim, then I’m all for it. While the incursions by Darius and Xerxes have received plenty of page and screen time, neither the adventures of the Delian League nor the complicated and lengthy conflict between Athens and Sparta (and their various allies/satellites) have received as much attention. I, for one, am interested in seeing how Iggulden plans to take that on. It would provide the opportunity to see how things turn out for Cimon and Pericles too. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see…

ARC via Netgalley

 

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