Iggulden has developed a unique place in writing novels set in various periods in history. He does an incredible amount of research in the era he is discussing and than uses literary license to flesh out characters involved. He postulates their words, reactions, feelings and drives based upon knowledge of the world they inhabited.
This book is set in a period occurring at the approximate ending of the Peloponnesian wars, which took place in ancient Greece between Athens and Sparta with most of the remainder of the country coming out on one side or another. It involves Cyrus the Younger, who lived in a period approximately between the stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae taking on the combined army of Persia and the later rise of Alexander the Great.
Cyrus was one of the sons of Darius and vied with his brother Artaxerxes to take the throne of Persia upon their father’s death. Iggulden paints him as the more suited to handle the army but his brother orders him killed in order to assure himself of the throne. The world of the period comes to life in telling the story of Cyrus and his quest to become ruler of Persia. An actual Athenian member of Cyrus’s army was a student of the philosopher Socrates and did write about him bringing the man to life for the reader. The conflict between the two brothers results in a civil war of monumental proportions at an area known as Cunaxa. The battle almost unknown today was an extremely bloody affair between armies of thousands of men. It is described based on the author’s visiting the site and his reading of the events involved.
The presence of Spartans fighting on the side of Cyrus is well documented. These were men whose entire existence and life is dedicated to fighting and war. They were almost superhuman in conditioning and ability to fight battles against any odds; as witness the 300 men taking on thousands of Persians at Thermopylae and holding their ground for three days. Iggulden provides a full description and praise of the Spartan soldiers and credits them with helping to hold out against the vast army that Cyrus’ brother fields.
Make no mistake, the book is not a dry tome of events in another day, but a very well worked historical novel that Iggulden creates based on a good deal of source material that has come down through the ages and can still be read by anyone. Words and feelings are put in the mouths of the people taking part in the story. The ones named were real and occupied the positions ascribed to them by the author. That they speak and act is a real result and study of what they might have said and felt during the period and events described.
A very well done and carefully constructed novel that takes place in a period of history that is 2000 years away from us but brought to life by a gifted author.
2/19 Paul Lane
THE FALCON OF SPARTA by Conn Iggulden. Pegasus Books (February 5, 2019). ISBN 978-1643130569. 448p.