The Gates of Athens Review

The Gates of Athens Review | Conn Iggulden

I’m exploring a new historical fiction novel today. I’ve only ever read Iggulden’s fantasy works before so I’m really looking forward to seeing how the different genre is tackled. If you’re prepared to go back to Ancient Greece, then keep scrolling for my Gates of Athens review.

Publisher: Penguin UK/Michael Joseph | Date: 2020 | Genre: Historical fiction

Plot: 490 B.C.

Two great empires are about to go to war . . .

The momentous struggle between Athens and Sparta as rival powers and political systems will last for twenty-seven years (431 to 404 BC).

It will end in the fall of a dynasty.

Filled with cunning political scheming and astonishing military prowess, invasions and treacheries, plagues and slaughters, passion and power, Conn Iggulden brings to life one of the most thrilling chapters of the ancient world.

I received Gates of Athens from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Gates of Athens by Conn Iggulden

The Gates of Athens review

I was introduced to Conn Iggulden through his fantasy fiction and subsequently discovered he also writes historical fiction. I’m eager to try his other work and The Gates of Athens seemed a suitable place to begin.

Characters

The setting is interesting, but it’s the characters who engage you from the start. We’re first introduced to Xanthippus as he prepares to march to the defence of his home and family. From there, we follow his journey through exile and battle. Xanthippus is a steady man: he doesn’t get overexcited, or overestimate his position. He’s solid, and while likeable, it took a while to warm to him.

Xanthippus is the main character but the narration is split across several. Themistocles is ambitious; more than anyone knows. His motives are initially blurry and it feels he could be a villain of the story. But he proves his worth and shows his dedication to his home, even if not his friends. Iggulden provides additional information through snapshots from lesser characters, but in an expositional manner rather than character development.

Other men dreamed, only to see their dreams made dust. Xerxes was not of their kind. His hopes became bridges. His dreams became vengeance, an arrow sent from his father’s bow that had been in flight for a long time.

The Gates of Athens, Conn Iggulden

We also follow the Persians as they prepare to make war. Their king is a self-centred, selfish man, believing in his own divinity and adamant everything will go as he dictates. You want him fail just to picture the look on his face. Less page time means you don’t connect with these characters in the same way, making it easy to manipulate the reader’s loyalty.

Pacing and themes

The Gates of Athens is a slow-paced novel, set over several years as the characters deal with threats to their beloved Athens: both internal and external. The book opens with the key players marching off to battle, then the pacing slows and it introduces a political element. There’s a lot of time dedicated to understanding how Athens was governed which, while interesting, made the pacing feel it was dragging for a while. Connecting with the characters was also harder when they aren’t given the chance to develop: you want to know how they’d react.

Although the first part wasn’t as engaging as I would have wanted, the second half more than makes up for that. Once everyone gets into position and they realise the threat, the pacing and the tension increase ten-fold. It’s a race against time to be ready to meet the Persians and it sweeps the reader up in that momentum, eagerly page-turning to see if they will make it.

Writing

The battles are clearly written, despite following sea warfare.  You root for your favourites; you fear for them; and you’re relieved if they survive. You know you’re immersed when the bittersweet ending hits you on an emotional level and you’re ready for the sequel to find out what happens to these characters next.

Final Thoughts

An enjoyable and engaging book. The fast-paced start twisted my expectations, but understanding the slower pace makes this a strong read that draws you into the world of Ancient Greece.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in historical fiction or this time period. I’ll certainly be continuing this adventure.

Is this an era you’ve read before? Would you be interested in doing so?

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53 thoughts on “The Gates of Athens Review | Conn Iggulden

  1. Great review. As always! This isn’t an era I’ve read before and to be honest, I’m totally overwhelmed by books like this! I’m sure I’d enjoy the stories but these sort of times just scare me to read haha!

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  2. Oooh, I do love some good historical fiction! And rich character development. I’m glad I know that the pace picks up in the end, I would hate to read this book and abandon it right before it got really engaging (I do give up on books, I know, it’s a cardinal sin!). Thanks for the recommendation, will definitely check it out!

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    • Oh it’s certainly not a cardinal sin, haha. I really enjoyed it once I realised it was going to be slower paced, the characterisations were really engaging.

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  3. This is such an enticing review! I’m always on the lookout for new recommendations so I’m so glad I fell upon this post! Thank you!

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    • Yay that’s great to hear! This was the first one I’d read from this time period and I’d definitely be interesting in reading more. I hope you enjoy it if you get the chance to read it.

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  4. I quite like the sound of this! Definitely not a genre I’m used to reading but I like it when you get so involved with the characters in the story that you get so tense and worry if they’re going to make it or not!! xx

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    • It’s definitely not the genre for everyone, but it did really sweep me up. It was also my first in this time period so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the tension really grabbed me once it got going.

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  5. Haven’t read an ancient warring era book before but this seems interesting! Seriously thought it involved Greek Myth but I think it will be an interesting read. Thank you for your review. 🙂

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