Protector by Conn Iggulden

Protector Cover Final

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.

Waiting on Wednesday – 2021 Historical Fiction Reads

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday article, I have a look at some epic upcoming historical fiction novels that I think could be amongst some of the best releases of 2021.

I have long been a lover of the fun, intriguing and often action-packed genre that is historical fiction, especially as I cut my reviewing teeth primarily on historical fiction novels for several years.  Even now that I review a wider range of novels, this still remains one of my favourite and preferred genres, and I always have an amazing time getting through a compelling historical read.  Last year proved to be an exceptional year for historical fiction, including The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett, The Emperor’s Exile by Simon Scarrow and Execution by S. J. Parris, and several historical fiction novels were easily amongst the best books I read in 2020.  Now that we are into 2021, I thought I would take this opportunity to look at three historical fiction releases from some of the leading voices in the genre that are coming out soon.  All three of these upcoming novels have an immense amount of potential and will probably be some of my favourite books of 2021.

A Comedy of Terrors Cover

The first of these books is A Comedy of Terrors, the latest entry in the incredible Flavia Alba series by one of my all-time favourite authors, Lindsey Davis.  Davis is an impressive and exceptional author who has been writing historical murder mysteries for years, first with her long-running Marcus Didius Falco series and then with the sequel Flavia Albia series.  Set in ancient Rome, the Flavia Albia books follows the titular protagonist as she investigates several grisly murders which are often tied to a unique element of the city or Roman history.  I have had an amazing time reading all the Flavia Albia novels over the last several years and I deeply enjoy the cool mix of fantastic mysteries, intriguing historical detail, and some outrageous humour.  All the previous entries in this series (including The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy, A Capitol Death and The Grove of the Caesars) have been exceptional reads, and every new Flavia Albia novel is an amazing treat in my reading calendar.

Luckily for me, a brand-new Lindsey Davis Flavia Albia is just around the corner with the ninth entry in the series, A Comedy of Terrors, currently set for release on 1 April 2021.  A Comedy of Terrors looks set to be another entertaining historical crime novel with a series of crimes taking place during a rowdy Roman festival.  There is a great synopsis out for this book already, as well as two fantastic looking covers.

Synopsis:

Saturnalia, the Romans’ mid-December feast, nominally to celebrate the sun’s rebirth but invariably a drunken riot. Flavia Albia needs a case to investigate, but all work is paused.

The Aventine is full of fracturing families. Wives plot to leave their husbands, husbands plot to spend more time with their mistresses. Masters must endure slaves taking obscene liberties, while aggressive slaves are learning to ape dangerous masters. But no one wants to hire an investigator during the holiday.

Albia is lumped with her own domestic stress: overexcited children and bilious guests, too many practical jokes, and her magistrate husband Tiberius preoccupied with local strife. He fears a Nut War. Nuts are both the snack and missile of choice of tipsy celebrants, so there is a fortune to be made. This year a hustling gang from the past is horning in on the action.

As the deadly menace strikes even close to home, and with law and order paused for partying, Albia and Tiberius must go it alone. The Emperor has promised the people a spectacular entertainment – but Domitian himself is a target for the old criminals’ new schemes. Can the Undying Sun survive the winter solstice, or will criminal darkness descend upon Rome?

This sounds like it has all the ingredients for an incredible Flavia Albia novel, and I am extremely keen to check it out.  The whole concept of the protagonist attempting to solve crimes during a lawless and chaotic festival with no official law enforcement backup sounds really fun, and having a gang trying to corner the market on festival nuts should be very entertaining.  I am particularly hoping that the author includes another large-scale comical scene, such as has appeared in several of her prior novels, and the whole festival seems like an ideal set up for such an event.  A Comedy of Terrors may also have some intriguing connections to Flavia’s past as the criminal organisation mentioned above possibly relates to an antagonist who kidnapped Flavia as a child (during the Falco book, The Jupiter Myth) and who was hinted to have returned in Pandora’s Boy.  All of this should lead to an entertaining and intense novel for the protagonist, and I look forward to seeing what sort of impressive mystery Davis comes up with this time. 

A Comedy of Terrors Cover 2

The next cool upcoming historical fiction novel that I want to highlight in this article is Crusader by Ben Kane.  Kane is another well-established historical fiction author who is probably best known for his impressive Roman historical fiction books, such as The Forgotten Legion trilogy, the Hannibal series, and The Eagles of Rome series.  Last year, Kane turned his attention to a different period of history with his captivating and exceptional novel, Lionheart, which showcased Richard the Lionheart’s rise from rebellious prince to King of England as seen through the eyes of his loyal squire, Rufus.

Crusader Cover

Crusader will be the second entry in the Lionheart series, and it will follow the newly crowned King as he begins his iconic crusade to the Holy Lands to face off against Saladin.  This second novel, which is currently set for release on 27 April 2021, will have a wide and impressive focus on vast swathes of Richard’s unique history and I look forward to seeing how it all comes together.

Synopsis:

KING
1189. The long-awaited goal of Richard Plantagenet, the Lionheart, comes true as he is crowned King of England. Before he can set off on crusade and retake Jerusalem from the Saracens, he must set his own kingdom in order, and deal with his half-brother Geoffrey and younger brother John, both of whom pose threats to the throne.

POLITICIAN
These matters settled, Richard’s incredible journey to Outremer, the Holy Land, begins. With him at every step is Ferdia, also known as Rufus, his loyal Irish follower. From southern France to Italy they travel, and on to the kingdom of Sicily, ruled by the scheming Tancred. Delayed on the island for military and political reasons, Richard must deal not only with its ruler but also King Philippe of France, his erstwhile ally on the crusade and long-time bitter rival. There is occasion for some levity, however; in Sicily, the king marries Berengaria, daughter of a Spanish king.

WARRIOR
Voyage continuing, he comes into conflict with the ruler of Cyprus, the self-styled emperor Isaac. Richard’s tactical brilliance sees the island fall to the crusaders in a whirlwind campaign. At last he is poised to sail to the Holy Land. There a bitter two-year-long siege awaits his army, at Acre. Waiting for him too, is Saladin, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem.

CONQUEROR
Triumphant at Acre, Richard must again play politician before the crusade can continue. Philippe of France seeks to thwart him at every turn. No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. When at last the king is able to lead his army south, Saladin’s huge army shadows its every move. In the height of summer, the conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling. On the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers will face the ultimate test. Battle is inevitable, but victory is not.

This next Lionheart novel sounds pretty damn awesome and it looks like Kane is planning to explore a huge amount of Richard’s life during this book.  Based on what was featured in Lionheart, Crusader will contain all the politics, battles, family drama and betrayals that were in the background of these exciting events, and I am really looking forward to seeing the author’s fascinating take on what happened during this period.  From some pre-released chapters of Crusader, it looks like Kane will also continue the compelling story of Richard’s fictional companion Rufus, who serves as the series’ main point-of-view character.  Rufus was an outstanding protagonist to follow in Lionheart, and it will be interesting to see how his tale continues in Crusader, especially as he is engaged in a deadly rivalry with fellow knight Robert FitzAldelm.  This rivalry was an exciting addition to Lionheart’s plot, and I look forward to seeing it get ramped up in Crusader, especially now that FitzAldelm knows that Rufus murdered his brother.  So far this has been one of the most impressive series to focus on Richard the Lionheart that I have read, and I cannot wait to see where Kane’s outstanding new series goes next.

The final book to be featured is Protector by Conn Iggulden.  Without a doubt, Iggulden is one of the best authors of historical fiction in the world today, having written some spectacular novels across a range of different historical periods.  This includes his epic Emperor series, which explored the life and death of Caesar, his Conqueror series, which followed the creation of Genghis Khan’s empire, his War of the Roses series which catalogued all the insanity that occurred during the titular English civil war and the outstanding standalone novel, The Falcon of Sparta.  All of his previous novels have been truly exceptional reads that showcase the author’s mastery of all things historical.

Protector Cover

His latest body of work is the Athenian series, which charts some of the most significant moments in the history of ancient Athens.  This series started last year with the sensational The Gates of Athens, which focused on the war against the Persians, with this novel examining the origins and outcomes of the battle of Marathon and Thermopylae.  The Gate of Athens was an incredible read that I deeply enjoyed, and I have been eagerly waiting to see how Iggulden would continue the cool story he set up in this first novel.  The second Athenian novel, Protector, will be released on 18 May 2021, and while the official cover is not out yet, the synopsis makes it clear that this upcoming book will feature some fascinating battles and conflicts.

Synopsis:

TWO LEGENDARY BATTLES.
ONE FEARLESS WARRIOR . . .

THE BATTLE OF SALAMIS
Persian King Xerxes stands over the smoking ruins of Athens, an army of slaves at his back. Come to destroy, once and for all, everything that the city stands for, he stares pitilessly at the hopelessly outnumbered Greeks.

Veteran soldier Themistocles cannot push the Persians back by force on land, and so he so does so by stealth, at sea. Over three long days, the greatest naval battle of the ancient world will unfold, a bloody war between the democracy of Athens and the tyranny of Persia.

THE BATTLE OF PLATAEA
Less than a year later, the Persian return to reconquer the Greeks. Tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides ready themselves for war. For the Spartans, Plataea is chance to avenge their defeat at Thermopylae. For the people of Athens, threatened on all sides, nothing less than the survival of democracy is at stake. And once again Themistocles, the hero of Salamis, will risk everything – his honour, his friendships, even his life – to protect his country.

Protector looks set to be an exciting and captivating read that will continue to explore some of the most fascinating periods of Greek history.  It looks like each of the novels in the Athenian series will focus on two battles, in this case the battles of Salamis and Plataea, and Protector will no doubt contain Iggulden’s trademark deep dive into the intriguing history behind both epic conflicts.  The previous entry in the series, The Gates of Athens, contained an impressive examination of the politics, key events and preparation each side did before the battle, as well as the impacts the battles had on both nations, and I think we can expect the same for Protector.  I am deeply excited to find out more about each of these battles and I cannot wait to see the background battles for supremacy that occurred between some of the leading men of Athens.  This novel has so much potential to be incredible, and I know that I am going to get through this novel extremely quickly.

As you can see above, 2021 is looking extremely awesome on the historical fiction front.  All three of novels featured in this article are going to be absolutely incredible and, based on my prior experiences with each of these amazing authors, they all have the potential to easily receive a five-star rating from me.  It is already certain that I am going to love all three of these cool books and I am extremely keen to read them as soon as possible.

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

The Gates of Athens Cover

Publisher: Michael Joseph (Trade Paperback – 4 August 2020)

Series: Athenian – Book One

Length: 443 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the top authors of historical fiction in the world today, Conn Iggulden, returns with an exciting and deeply impressive novel that chronicles the chaotic formative years of the birthplace of democracy in The Gates of Athens.

In 490 BC, Darius, King of Persia, rules a vast and powerful empire of millions.  None dare oppose him except the city states of Greece who openly defy him and refuse his demands to bow to his authority.  Determined to conquer them, Darius leads a powerful fleet across the sea towards the city of Athens.  However, the people of Athens are unlike any opponent that Darius has faced before.  Having only recently overthrown their own tyrants, they will never again bow down to a single man, no matter the cost.

As Darius’s army lands near the city on the plains of Marathon he finds a host of Athenian hoplites waiting for him ready to defend their home.  This fierce battle will set of a series of events that will not only change the life of everyone in Greece but also serve as the defining moment for several citizens of Athens, including the charismatic and scheming Themistocles, the clever and honest Aristides and the mighty warrior Xanthippus, father of Pericles.

As these leaders of Athens battle for the future of their city the choices they make will have far reaching impacts as, years later, another king of Persia, Xerxes, will lead an immense invasion of Greece in order to satisfy his father’s honour.  However, despite his vast armies and navies, Xerxes will face surprising opposition as a small force of determined Greeks decides to hold against him on both land and at sea at a place called Thermopylae.  Will the bravery of few be enough to save many or will freedom and democracy be crushed before it can truly begin?

Well damn, now that was an epic book.  I have been saying for a while that I thought that The Gates of Athens was going to be one of the best historical fiction books of 2020.  Well, just like the oracle of Delphi when she prophesised the fate of Leonidas, it turns out that I was right, as this new novel turned out to be an exceptional historical tale that proved extremely hard to stop reading.  Mind you, the awesomeness of this prediction is rather tempered by the fact that this was a historical fiction book written by Conn Iggulden, so it was a bit of a given that it was going to be damn good novel.  I am a major fan of Iggulden, having read several of his prior books including entries in both his incredible Emperor and War of the Roses series, as well as his standalone novel, The Falcon of Sparta.  This latest book from Iggulden serves as the first entry in his Athenian series, which is set to be a fantastic series over the next couple of years.

The Gates of Athens contains an extremely impressive and sprawling historical storyline that showcases and recreates some of the early defining moments of ancient Athens.  The story starts off with the battle of Marathon and then explores the aftermath of the war and its many consequences.  This results in a great multi-character narrative which shows how the various decisions of the protagonists impacted the events of the second half of the book, which is set several years later and examines the battle of Thermopylae.  Iggulden utilises a number of different character perspectives throughout the course of the plot, allowing the reader a larger view of the events occurring, while also providing some alternate viewpoints about the same events.  While there is an obvious focus on the major battles against the Persians, The Gates of Athens has a lot of different elements to it and at many points this awesome novel changes focus to examine political intrigue, social struggles, personal relationships and intense character development.  Iggulden does an outstanding job writing all of these different elements and it really comes together into an amazing overarching historical narrative.

In addition to The Gates of Athens’s fantastic story I also have to highlight the book’s detailed and intriguing historical setting.  As the title suggests, The Gates of Athens is primarily set within the ancient city of Athens, and Iggulden has done an incredible job bringing this iconic historical location to life.  The author spends significant time examining several different aspects of the city.  This includes an in-depth look at its history, its recently introduced democratic political structure, its military defences, its economic status and its layout, and an exploration of the day-to-day lives of its citizens.  Iggulden also attempts to dive into the mindset of the people of Athens, showing their collective feelings and opinions, including the immense pride that they had in being a unique and unprecedented society that extols the values of democracy and freedom (you know, except for all the slaves).  All of this comes together into a rich tapestry of culture and society that acts as a love letter to ancient Athens and everything it represented.  All of this proves to be an excellent setting for the story, and I really appreciated the lengths that Iggulden went to in order to show the reader what being an Athenian was all about.

Another fantastic part of this book was the compelling people that the author set the complex story around.  All the major characters in this novel are real-life historical figures who had a significant hand in the history of Athens, including Xanthippus, Aristides and Themistocles.  Each of these three people are extremely fascinating individuals who achieved many great things, and Iggulden does a fantastic job exploring some of the major events that occurred to them during the years that The Gates of Athens was set, including the roles they played in battles and political gambits, their impact on the city and their various rises and falls in fortunes.  I had an amazing time seeing each of their individual stories unfold.  I particularly enjoyed the way that Iggulden portrayed each of these characters, showing Themistocles (a person Iggulden praises very heavily in his Historical Notes sections) as a self-made political climber with limitless ambition, Aristides as a relentless honest person, and Xanthippus as a honourable but hot-headed individual.  Each of these main characters engage in various political battles against each other, adding significant drama and intrigue to the story, although it proved to be rather heartening to see them come together for the good of Athens and its people at various points in the book.

I also have to highlight the use of Xerxes, King of Persia, who acts as the book’s main antagonist.  Iggulden spends a good amount of time exploring this fascinating figure and examines his various motivations for invading Greece in the way that he did.  Xerxes serves as intriguing counterpoint view to the major Greek characters, and I liked this more grounded portrayal of him as a man who has inherited unlimited power and does not quite know what to do when he encounters Greeks who refuse to bow down before him.  Overall, Iggulden did an outstanding job with each of these characters, and I also really appreciated how he started setting up several other secondary characters, such as Pericles, who will probably be the protagonists of future books.

This book also has plenty for those readers who love some historical action as The Gates of Athens contains a number of major battle sequences, which showcases the fights between the Greeks and the Persians, including the battle at Marathon, and the conflicts that took place around Thermopylae.  These battle sequences are written extremely well and provide excellent and detailed reconstructions of how these battles are played out.  Iggulden has obviously done his research when it comes to these ancient battles, as each of them are chocked full of historical detail, providing the reader with immense amounts of information.  I really liked all the tactics, equipment, disposition and manoeuvres that featured and the actions of various participants during each of these fights, all of which really helps to paint a picture for the reader.  While the various land battles are very impressive, including great depiction of the Spartans’ stand against the Persians at Thermopylae (with a historically accurate number of combatants), I really have to highlight the fights that occur at sea.  As this is a book about Athens there is a major focus on the Athenian navy and their allies and the combat that they saw at Thermopylae.  Iggulden really dives into all the aspects around these naval battles, including showing all the preparation and training that the Greek sailors did before the invasion, as well as the various tactics and naval combat techniques that were developed.  The eventual fight against the Persian armada is really impressive with some amazing action sequences that show the rival fleets against each other.  These depictions of ancient combat and classic battles were extremely awesome, and they were a key part of why I had such a great time reading this book.

The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden is an impressive and expansive piece of historical fiction that proved to be a fantastic book to get lost in.  Iggulden once again shows why he is one of the most talented writers of historical fiction in the world today with this outstanding epic that combines masterful storytelling with compelling historical elements, great characters and some exciting action sequences.  This is easily one of the best historical fiction books of 2020 and it gets a full five-star rating from me.