Saturday, January 14, 2012
The Fire of Ares by Michael Ford
Lysander is a young helot slave in Sparta who finds that he is actually heir to a noble heritage. With his circumstances suddenly changed, he becomes a student at a training facility that will make him a Spartan warrior. Faced with prejudice and bullying, he questions just who he's loyal to, his Spartan background or his helot upbringing. In the midst of his struggles, he searches for a stone called the Fire of Ares that was stolen from him and connects him to his Spartan history.
Since 3o0, so often Spartans are shown in literature and movies as a group who was strong and warlike, but fair and noble. That is historically inaccurate. The Spartan culture was based entirely on being able to keep the number of slaves, who vastly outnumbered them, under control. Military training was mainly enforced out of fear of a slave uprising rather than drive for military excellence. This book does the service of telling the story from the point of a helot slave and being unflinching in its look at Spartan society. Yes there are a few nice Spartans, but overwhelmingly Lysander is confronted by prejudice and violence merely because he's a slave. The brutality of what Spartans demanded of their citizens is also shown. The plot was sometimes a bit contrived, but it maintained interest the whole way through and while the search for the missing stone felt a bit unnecessary, the book itself was extremely readable.