The Fire of Ares

Written by Michael Ford
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Hal McNulty

Ancient Sparta. Lysander is a helot – a slave – in Sparta, one of the most ruthless states in the Classical world. All Spartan males undergo a rigorous and brutal training to become the most feared warriors of the age. Then a gang of Spartan youths on a terrorizing and killing spree attack Lysander and steal his most valuable possession, a pendant called ‘the fire of Ares’ left to him by his unknown father.

All Lysander and his friend Timeon can do is secretly train for the longed-for resistance uprising.

Then, a chance meeting with a Spartan nobleman, Sarpedon, changes Lysander’s life. He discovers that his unknown father was Sarpedon’s son, and he is offered an escape from slavery – a Spartan warrior training. Timeon can accompany him as his servant. But will the training camp boys accept him? Or will they treat him like a despised ‘half-breed’? And does he want to become a Spartan, anyway? On the other hand, it will give him a chance to search for the fire of Ares.

As the press release has it, ‘this is an absorbing and informative read with bags of boy appeal.’ There is certainly enough brutality. Spartan training included savage, and sometimes fatal, punishments; the repression of any softer emotions like pity or empathy; denigration of helots and women (there are only two, minor, female characters in the book) and the glorification of war.

Personally, I found the Spartans so repellent that it was difficult to cheer when, after the usual spills and thrills, and some dastardly behaviour by Lysander’s particular enemy, the vicious Demaratos, Lysander wins the victor’s crown at the Festival of Ortheia. However, blood-thirsty boys of 10 plus might well enjoy it. I’ll be interested to see what Hal thinks.

– Elizabeth Hawksley

The Fire of Ares is an excellent book. It’s about a boy aged thirteen called Lysander who is a Helot (slave of the Spartans). His life is filled with pain and anguish along with that of his mother and many other Helots who work in the fields every day. Until one day he finds out his ancestry and goes to the Agoge to train as a Spartan.

I cannot find any faults in this book. Michael Ford is an incredibly gifted writer. I enjoyed this book because unlike some books, it is not filled with happiness throughout, and so does not grow boring. My favourite character is a Helot slave called Timeon who is the friend and slave of Lysander. I like him because he helps Lysander instead of staying back.
I think The Fire of Ares is a great book and I will be looking out for a sequel.

– Hal McNulty, aged 11