Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 3 September 2020.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
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.
WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
So, let’s get to it.
Star Wars: Shadow Fall by Alexander Freed (Trade Paperback)
The sequel to last year’s Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall is another fantastic Star Wars novel that sees two rival groups of pilots face off following the fall of the Empire. I have made a fair amount of progress with this book and so far I am really enjoying it.
Star Wars: Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn (Audio Drama)
It looks like I’m doing a bit of a Star Wars double feature this week, but there was no way I could resist this new Star Wars audio drama about one of my favourite characters Doctor Aphra. Featuring a full cast of impressive narrators, this Doctor Aphra audio drama retells the events of the Darth Vader (2015) series where Aphra was introduced and tells it from her perspective. I am about half an hour in at the moment and I am loving this fun and entertaining audio presentation, which is perfectly capturing the character’s wild and exciting personality.
The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden (Trade Paperback)
I’m hoping to get a review for this book up tonight.
Kill Switch by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)
I am also hoping to write a review about this book today, will have to see how I go.
That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.
It has been a bit of a slow month book-wise for me, but I have still received several amazing books to read and review, so I thought I would take the time to highlight them in a book haul post. While the books have been few, they are actually a pretty impressive collection of novels, and represent some of the top novels of 2020. I have been looking forward to a number of these books for a while, and several have recently appeared on my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2020 list and my Winter TBR list. Each of these books sounds really amazing and I cannot wait to get through all of them.
A horror book about Sasquatches written by the author of World War Z, yes please! I have already read and reviewed this book and it is pretty damn good.
The Constant Rabbit is a fun and unique new novel that I am currently reading. Fforde has always come up with some amusing and memorable books (such as his 2018 release, Early Risers), and this new one is pretty crazy, featuring anthropomorphised rabbits in an alternate version of Great Britain.
The sequel to last years Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall looks set to be another action-packed and impressive Star Wars novels that sets two rival groups of pilots against each other. Guaranteed to be a fun and exciting blast, this should be a great one to check out.
The Gates of Athens is the latest novel from one of the top historical fiction authors in the world, Conn Iggulden. I am a major fan of Iggulden’s writing (check out my review for his last book, The Falcon of Sparta), and this looks set to be one of the best historical releases of 2020.
This next book is a fantastic sounding murder mystery novel from Australian author Megan Goldin, who wrote the awesome 2018 release, The Escape Room. The Night Swim has an amazing concept behind it and I am really looking forward to seeing how it turns out.
The final entry on this list is the impressive sounding fantasy novel, The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso, a copy of which I picked up today. I really enjoyed Caruso’s debut series, the Sword and Fire trilogy (made up of The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire), and this latest book is set in the same universe. I think that this has a lot of potential and I am very excited for it.
That is the end of this book haul and as you can see I have quite a bit of reading to do. I am hoping to get some great new books in the next couple of weeks, and will hopefully be able to do another book haul post soon. Until then let me know which of the above books most interests you and I’ll try to read them first.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants need to list their top anticipated releases for the second half of 2020.
2020 has so far been a pretty amazing year for books, with some outstanding and impressive novels coming out and blowing me away. However, the year is far from over, and there are a number of incredible and epic-sounding novels set for release in the second half of 2020. In order to fill out this list I have scoured my list of anticipated upcoming releases and tried to work out which of the books coming out between the start of July and the end of December I am most looking forward to.
This proved to be a rather hard list to finalise, mainly because of how many awesome novels are coming out in the next six months. I had to make some hard decisions for this list, and I ended up cutting out several upcoming releases that I am really looking forward to. Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this upcoming list reflects which upcoming novels I am going to have the most fun reading. Due to how impressive they sound and because they have already caught my attention, several of these books in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, and some of them also appeared on my recent Winter TBR list. However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, so that should give this list a bit of variety. So let us get to my selections and find out which upcoming novels are my most anticipated releases for the second half of 2020.
Hollow Empire by Sam Hawke – 26 November 2020
Hollow Empire was a book that I was really hoping to read last year, but it has faced some delays. Luckily it looks set for release in a few months time and I am rather excited to check it out, especially after how much I enjoyed Hawke’s first novel, City of Lies.
Colonyside by Michael Mammay – 29 December 2020
This is the third book in the incredible Planetside series of science fiction thriller novels that I have been having an outstanding time reading the last couple of years. The first book in this series, Planetside, is one of my favourite debuts of all time, and last year’s follow-up book, Spaceside was also really impressive. Colonyside is set to be another amazing addition to this series, and I cannot wait to see what sort of complex and clever space mystery Mammay cooks up this time.
The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden – 4 August 2020
I actually got a copy of this book last week and I am planning on reading it soon. Gates of Athens is set to be one of the top historical fiction releases of the year, and it should prove to be an epic and detailed read.
I used The Trouble with Peace’s more recent cover for this article because it looks extremely cool and is a nice contrast to the cover I used in the linked Waiting on Wednesday article.
I just want to point out that Assault by Fire is the only debut novel that I have featured in this article. Not only does it have an awesome and exciting story concept behind it, but I really loved the book that Rawlings cowrote with Mark Greaney last year, Red Metal. If Rawlings’ first solo book is anything as good as Red Metal, then this should prove to be a fantastic read that I know I am going to enjoy.
The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly – 10 November 2020
I have been really enjoying Michael Connelly’s books over the last couple of years, including Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire, both of which were exceptional pieces of crime fiction. I am also in the middle of reading his latest book, Fair Warning, which is so far pretty amazing. Because of this, I was rather excited when I heard that Connelly had another book coming out later this year. The Law of Innocence sounds extremely interesting as it sees the return of the Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller, as he faces the trial of his life. Also set to feature his most iconic protagonist, Harry Bosch, The Law of Innocence should be a particular impressive read and I am very much looking forward to it.
Call of the Bone Ships by R. J. Barker – 24 November 2020
The final book on this list is a book that I know that I am absolutely going to love, and which is pretty much guaranteed to get a full five stars from me. Call of the Bone Ships is the upcoming sequel to one of the best books of 2019, The Bone Ships, by the always amazing R. J. Barker. This new book will continue the epic nautical fantasy adventures started in The Bone Ships, and I for one am extremely eager to see what outstanding and inventive new narrative that Barker comes up with this time.
That’s the end of this list. I am extremely happy with how my latest Top Ten Tuesday article turned out, and my Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020 list contains an intriguing list of upcoming books that should prove to be incredible reads. I think that every one of the books I mentioned above has the potential to get a full five-star rating from me and I cannot wait to see what amazing and exciting stories they contain. While I am waiting to get my hands on these books, why not let me know if any of the above interest you, and let me know what your most anticipated releases for the next six months are in the comments below.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list the top ten books on their Winter 2020 (or Summer 2020 for those up in the Northern Hemisphere) to be read (TBR) list.
There are some rather fantastic-sounding novels coming out in the next couple of months, and I am quite excited for a number of them. Surprisingly, producing this list did not go as smoothly as some previous TBR lists that I have done. This is because several books I was hoping to include have been delayed since the last time I looked them up, presumably due to the coronavirus outbreak. While this is a little disappointing, I was still able to come up with a good list of Winter TBR books, and the entries below are some of my most anticipated releases coming out in June, July and August 2020. I have previously addressed several of these books before in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday posts, and there is also likely to be some crossover between this list and some of my previous Top Ten Tuesday lists, such as my Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020 list and my Predicted Five Star Reads list. I have also chosen to exclude any books that I have already read or have started reading (such as Stormblood by Jeremy Szal). Overall, I think I came up with quite a diverse list of books.
Devolution by Max Brooks – 16 June 2020
Out of Time by David Klass – 21 July 2020
The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde – 30 June 2020
This is a really quirky and entertaining novel that I received earlier this week, which I think could be a lot of fun to read. Jasper Fforde is an author who I have enjoyed for years, and I had a great time reading his last book, Early Riser. His latest book, The Constant Rabbit, sounds absolutely bonkers as it features anthropomorphic rabbits moving into a human town and facing prejudice in a satire of racism in the UK. I am sure I am going to laugh myself silly with this book, and it should be a really unique read.
The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden – 4 August 2020
Conn Iggulden is an extremely talented historical fiction author who has produced some amazing novels throughout his career, including his last book, The Falcon of Sparta. His upcoming novel, The Gate of Athens, is the first entry in his new Athenian series, which will take a look at the major wars of ancient Athens. This is probably going to be one of the best historical fiction books that I am going to read in the next few months, and I cannot wait to check it out.
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir – 4 August 2020
Last year I was blown away by the incredible Gideon the Ninth, which was part fantasy, part science fiction, part murder mystery and 100% non-stop fun. Gideon the Ninth was easily one of my favourite debuts of 2019, and I am extremely excited to read the sequel, Harrow the Ninth. This upcoming novel seems set to continue the crazy adventures of the first book, and I am really looking forward to seeing where the story goes after Gideon the Ninth’s shocking conclusion.
The Night Swim by Megan Goldin – 4 August 2020
The Night Swim is the next intriguing release from Australian author Megan Goldin, and it looks set to be one of the most compelling mystery novels of 2020. I really enjoyed Goldin’s previous book, 2018’s The Escape Room, which I ended up reading in a single night, and I am looking forward to getting through the author’s next compelling story.
How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K. J. Parker – 25 August 2020
The final book on my list is How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by bestselling fantasy author K. J. Parker. Parker is a really clever writer who has produced a huge number of impressive fantasy novels over the year. His previous book, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, was an incredible read and it was one of my favourite books of 2019. Due to how much I enjoyed his last book, and because How to Rule and Empire and Get Away with It might have some intriguing connections to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, I have extremely high hopes for this upcoming novel, and I think it is going to be absolutely amazing.
Well that’s my latest top ten list. I am very happy with the final list that I pulled together, especially as this is a great mixture of impressive-sounding novels. I think each of the books listed above have incredible potential, and I cannot wait to read each and every one of them. Let me know which of these books interests you the most in the comments below.