The Luck Bringer

Written by Nick Brown
Review by Jim Burnside

Nick Brown sets himself a difficult challenge in attempting to write a novel with original elements set in ancient Greece, immediately prior to and including the battle of Marathon in 490 BC, seen retrospectively through the eyes of Mandrocles, wayward son of a nobleman, shown favour by General Militades – tactical genius of Athen’s strategic defense against the Persians.

Clearly this was a pivotal moment in history not only for the classical world, in terms of Greece’s nascent democracy and ensuing ‘golden age’ but in respect to the realistic recording of events and writing of poetry, plays, philosophical treatises and subsequent impregnation of elemental influences that still resonate with the modern, occidental world inspiring successive generations of Britons.

The author consciously sets out to characterize and draw upon these strong elements, tying them together brilliantly through the tearful eyes of aged Mandrocles, as the old warrior recalls details of momentous events he witnessed first-hand as a youth: including Miltiades evasion of dark forces surrounding both Darius’s imperial tyranny and Themistocles’s volatile revolution. Commendably, Nick Brown manages to reconcile these original constituents of his tale with a light touch, bringing deities, kings, heroes and warrior-poets out from university text books into the sparkling but fearful Mediterranean sunshine.

Mandrocles’ narrative voice is vividly and quintessentially Greek – unpretentious, waggishly masculine and wryly insightful. At times the deeply portrayed action, especially at Marathon, is shocking but without the gratuitous violence of screenplays which generally cheapen scenes of conflict from the ancient world.

Every serious student of this period of history should read this book. Like an excellent wine, it has enough subtlety and balance to invite a second, leisured read, as a temperate work of literature rather than an expansive, historical fiction. Luck Bringer lacks only compelling romance, which I suspect the author was tempted to include but felt obliged to step around. Otherwise, in all respects, it is exquisitely crafted.