I’ve been a fan of Conn Iggulden’s writing for some time now, both his fantasy and historical fiction works. While Lion is technically a new series, it is also a continuation of The Athenian, with a lot of references to past events and inclusion of main characters. It can be read as a stand-alone, but I’m seeing it as an addition to that series. Read my full review on Lion and see what you think.
Publisher: Michael Joseph | Date: 2022 | Genre: Historical Fiction
Plot: Ancient Greece, 5th century BC
The age of myths and legends has given way to the world of men. In the front rank stands Pericles, Lion of Athens.
Behind Pericles lies the greatest city of the ancient world. Before him, on land and at sea, stands the merciless Persian army. Both sides are spoiling for war.
Though still a young man, Pericles knows one thing: to fight a war you must first win the peace.
It’s time for a hero to rise.
For his enemies to tremble.
And for Athens, a city of wisdom and warriors, to shine with glory . . .
I received Lion from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I’ve been following The Athenian series since book one, but admit this is my favourite. Lion is more character-centred, with a steadier pace which was more engaging. I was grounded in ancient Athens in a way I lacked previously and the result was a gripping read.
There is still some dual narration occurring, but Lion primarily follows one character: Pericles. We’ve met him as a child, son of the great Xanthippus. But Pericles is grown now, a warrior in his own right determined to prove his worth – to his father, his friends, but especially to himself.
Pericles is a strong main character. He has strengths and weaknesses, but is a good man determined to prove his worth. He has a strong legacy to live up to due to his father’s actions but fighting is in his blood. Even after an opportunity to settle down to married life, he can’t resist the call to stand by his friends against impossible odds.
There’s a passing of a generation this this. Xanthippus’ time is done, and while Themistocles is still as cunning as ever, he knows this is no longer his battle. The younger men are proving they can handle the burden. Sticking with Pericles rather than a constant shift of characters means you get to know and like him – a major point lacking from the first books.
Pacing & Themes
While there’s still the divide between the fighting and a more peaceful life, the pacing and tension is smoother this time. The war is interweaved throughout the book as a whole, always there in the background. There is also less politics and backstabbing – one of the reasons I struggled to connect to the characters previously. It did lean towards in that direction towards the end, but I’m hoping it’s a ploy. It will be frustrating to have a repeat of prior storylines.
The battles are set far from home this time. While this is by no means a ‘light’ story, it’s also not as dark as the previous two. Not witnessing the heartbreak of seeing your home, your city, fall to invaders knowing it’s going to be impossible to keep them out, changes the tone. The Athenians are taking the fight to them, and it changes the mood. There’s an undercurrent of hope and determination, rather than the helplessness prevalent beforehand.
Whether it’s due to getting to know the characters, the smoother pacing or just fewer confusing jumps between the narrators, I really enjoyed Lion. It offers an insight into life as an Athenian at that time: not just war, but the more pleasurable aspects of life; friendships, laughter, the fun of putting on a new play and seeing a society coming together, united under a cause.
A strong third book in an engaging series. Iggulden’s writing goes from strength to strength and I’m looking forward to seeing where the story arc for young Pericles and his friends goes in the next book. I recommend this series for anyone interested in reading about ancient Athens.
Also in the series: