The Gates of Athens: Book One in the Athenian series

Written by Conn Iggulden
Review by Waheed Rabbani

About 490 BCE, the aging Persian King Darius, and his young son, Xerxes, stand on a hilltop overlooking the smoldering ruins of Persian-controlled Sardis. The Greeks have stormed the city, killed the Persian garrison, and burned the town, including a 2000-year-old temple. Xerxes observes his father shoot an arrow into the air, vowing revenge. Shortly thereafter, the Persians arrive on Greek shores, at Marathon, with a 10,000-strong army. From Athens, Xanthippus hurries along with his fellow warriors to battle the Persians. Despite being outnumbered, the Athenians are victorious. However, as Athenians are subsequently engulfed in rancorous politics and factionalism, Xanthippus is dismayed as friends turn into traitors. Democracy is at stake. The second Persian invasion, in 480 BCE with a larger army and navy, led by Xerxes, unites the Greek city-states. Leonidas, King of Sparta, and his warriors come to Athens’ aid for the battle at Thermopylae. Xerxes is determined to demolish Athens.

This is the start of a new series by acclaimed writer Conn Iggulden, covering the Greco-Persian wars of the ancient world. As typical, Iggulden takes his time in narrating the story. The background and intricacies of the conflict leading to war are detailed, not just by narrative, but using dialogue to present a more intimate understanding of the pros and cons. The Persian points of view, in the form of deliberations by Xerxes, are well presented. Most of the novel’s characters are real historical persons, and their interactions add to the events’ accuracy. The extensive research conducted by Iggulden shows in the depth of the discussions. The battle strategies and combatants’ engagements, including their armaments, are described in detail. However, all these portrayals, characters’ arguments, and scene depictions make for a long novel. Readers will eagerly await the next book. Highly recommended.