By Valerio Massimo Manfredi
A few days ago I finished reading "Spartan" by Valerio Manfredi. This is my first exposure to his work as I have but have not yet read his best-selling Alexander trilogy. I'm afraid I was not overly impressed, although the story was definitely readable. Most of the characters, with the exception of Talos, were not well developed, which in turn served to diminish the impact of some of the climactic moments in the book. The battle of Thermopylae was passed over so quickly, it did not create sufficient pathos when the two young Spartan warriors, ordered by Leonidas to deliver a message to the ephors, are ostracized by the Spartan community and labeled with the scornful title of "he who trembles". Likewise, the battle of Plataea was not portrayed in enough detail to grant the sacrifice of Brithos the emotional impact it should have had on Talos or the reader.
Afterward, as Talos traipsed around after Pausanias as a mercenary, the plot seemed to wander almost aimlessly for a time before Talos finally returned to Sparta and took up the mantle of his destiny.
The "love" scenes (if you can call them that) were right out of the fifties. Antinea steps out of her tunic and the scene changes and it’s the next morning. They seemed especially vacant after having just read Jennifer Macaire’s colorful Alexander time-travel novel, Children In The Morning.
However, The Spartan was far more interesting to me than Thornton Wilder’s Ides of March (I know that’s probably sacrilegious but that book just dragged for me) and stimulated my interest in further study of the helot conflict with the Spartans. I found one of Paul Cartledge’s definitive books on Sparta, The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse, at a bargain price on Half.com so I ordered it to continue my exploration of this culture.