Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 18 May 2021)
Series: Athenian – Book Two
Length: 397 pages
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
One of the best authors of historical fiction, the incredible Conn Iggulden, returns with the second epic book in his Athenian series, Protector.
Following the devastating battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, the Persian army reigns supreme in Greece as King Xerxes stands triumphant in the burnt ruins of Athens. However, despite his victories, Xerxes has not eliminated the threat of the Athenians, whose citizens have escaped by boat to the nearby island of Salamis. Determined to wipe them out, Xerxes commits his mighty navy in an attack of the Greek fleet off Salamis, initiating one of the deadliest naval battle of all time. Over three days of fighting, the Greeks and the Persians engage in a brutal battle, with boats destroyed and men killed in horrific numbers. In the end, only a act of subterfuge from the sly Athenian, Themistocles, will be enough to stop the attack, although this action may damn him for all times.
Following this battle, the Athenians attempt to rebuild their once beautiful city; however, the threat of the Persians remains as a massive army lurks within Greece. To finally cripple the Persian ambitions for Greece, famed Athenians, Aristides, Themistocles and Xanthippus, will work to bring together an army of free Greeks. Led by the powerful armies of Sparta, the Greeks will face the Persian army as the plains of Plataea, while their navy faces them at Mycale. Can the Greeks overcome the superior numbers of the Persian army to survive, or will the Persian dominion of Greece continue, wiping out their fledgling democracy? The future of Athens is written here, and the world will never again be the same.
Wow, that was another exceptional historical novel from the always impressive Iggulden. Iggulden has been one of the leading historical authors for years, and I have deeply enjoyed several of his works, including his epic War of the Roses series and the fantastic standalone novel, The Falcon of Sparta. Last year, he introduced The Gates of Athens, the first novel in his new Athenian series, which will cover some of the most iconic formative years of ancient Athens. The Gates of Athens was an excellent novel that was one of my favourite historical books of 2020. As a result, I have been eagerly awaiting the next entry in the Athenian series, and Iggulden really did not disappoint with Protector.
Protector contains an epic and intense narrative that highlights the chaotic events following the battle of Thermopylae. This novel has a fantastic start to it, as the story immediately shows the iconic battle of Salamis, a deadly battle of ships and men as the fate of the entire population of Athens hangs in the balance. This first battle is pretty damn intense, and you get a real sense of the fatigue, despair and destruction that the participants and observers of the battle are feeling. This battle lasts for a good while, and I loved that Iggulden did not waste any time getting into it, ensuring that the reader is pretty hooked for the rest of Protector. Following Salamis, the narrative focuses on the rebuilding of Athens and the attempts to bring the Spartans into the war to face the lurking Persian army. While not as exciting as the start of the book, this central part of Protector is deeply fascinating, and I personally enjoyed the interplay of politics and historical fact, as Iggulden expertly depicts the lead-up to the next battles against Persia. It also perfectly sets up the epic two battles that are the defining part of Protector, Plataea and Mycale, which occurred around the same time as each other. Both these battles are pretty intense and action packed, although the elaborate and bloody battle of Plataea is the real highlight, especially as the stakes surrounding it are extremely high. I deeply enjoyed seeing these two amazing historical battles unfold, and Iggulden ensures that they are bloody, action-packed and compelling. It was also really cool to see the fascinating, if occasionally tragic aftermath of these battles, and it sets up some intriguing historical storylines for future entries in this series.
I really appreciated the incredible historical detail that Iggulden brought to Protector. The author has clearly done his research when it comes to this iconic historical battles and he does an incredible job bringing them to life. So many key moments from the battles are fantastically captured throughout Protector, and the reader gets an amazing idea of the tactics, armaments and movements of the participants, as well as their chaotic flow and carnage. While the battles themselves are pretty amazing, Iggulden also ensures that the underlying politics, motivations and historical figures associated with them are also detailed, ensuring that the reader gets a full view of why these events are happening and their overall impact on the people of Greece and Persia. All of this is extremely fascinating, and I personally loved learning more about this period, especially as Iggulden presents it in a compelling and exciting manner.
One of the things that I most enjoyed about The Gates of Athens was the amazing portrayal of several major historical figures. Iggulden continues this fantastic trend in Protector, as he once again looks at several major Greek and Persian characters. The most prominent of these are probably the three Greek strategos, Aristides, Themistocles and Xanthippus. Despite their political conflicts in the first novel (Themistocles orchestrated banishments for both), the three are forced to work together for the greater good of Athens and prove to be an effective team. Iggulden does an amazing job getting into the heads of all three of these figures, and it was interesting to see how the author envisions what these great men would have been thinking or doing during these historical events. All three have a significant part of Protector told from their perspective. In particular, each of the three major battles featured within this novel is primarily told from one character’s perspective, with Aristides leading the Athenian force at Plataea, Xanthippus fighting at Mycale, while Themistocles unleashes his cunning during the battle for Salamis. I really enjoyed the portrayals of all three characters, and it was interesting to see them during some of their most iconic moments. In particular, Iggulden provides some intriguing insight to Xanthippus’s mental state after Mycale and some explanation for why he participated in several massacres. I also deeply enjoyed the way in which Iggulden portrays the tragedy of Themistocles, whose own cleverness and guile eventually catches up with him.
In addition to these three main Athenian characters, Iggulden also spends time with some younger Athenian figures, particularly Cimon and Pericles, Xanthippus’s youngest son. This proves to be an intriguing examination of the younger Greek characters and Iggulden is setting up some new protagonists for the later entries in the series, particularly with Pericles. There is also some significant focus on several great Spartan characters, such as the war leader, Pausanias, who also provides an excellent alternate viewpoint to the battle at Plataea, as well as an alternate way of thinking from the democratic Greeks. I also liked the way in which several Persian characters were featured, include Xerxes and General Mardonius, especially as it allowed for another fascinating viewpoint that paints the Greek characters in a whole new light. All these great historical figures are expertly brought to life by Iggulden, and I had a wonderful time learning about their stories and tragic fates.
In his second entry in the Athenian series, Conn Iggulden once again demonstrates his mastery of the historical fiction genre by crafting a captivating and addictive tale of war, intrigue and personal ambition from iconic moments in Greek history. Protector is an exceptional and fast-paced novel that presents a powerful vision of the unique and world-changing battles of Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale. This is a clever and intense historical novel which comes highly recommended, and historical fiction fans will deeply enjoy the cool and fascinating tale within. I look forward to the next chapter in the Athenian series and I cannot wait to see the war and politics that is yet to be unleashed on this city.