Monday, April 10, 2006

Gates of Fire - Steven Pressfield

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by
that here obedient to their laws we lie

Steven Pressfield's first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance, was a fantastical re-telling of the Hindu text, the Bhagavad-Gita. As such, Pressfield is a speculative fiction writer, and following the age old rule that states what an SF writer writes is Speculative Fiction, I am including The Gates of Fire on this site. (Though it could more readily be labelled as historical fiction.)

It is re-telling of the battle of Thermopylae wherein 300 Spartans held the passes for a week against one million Persians. (The numbers are blurry. Herodotus, though the father of modern history, was a bit liberal with the hyperbole.)

This tale has been retold numerous times through books and films, but never has the Spartan society been so dissected and displayed for the reader. The warrior caste system is fascinating, and the various facts Pressfield has been able to produce flesh out the tale and give it a new vibrance.

The issues of homosexuality amongst the warriors is lightly touched upon, but not gone into in detail. This was the only glaring problem I had with the novel. The prose is simple and eloquent, the action as charged as anything written by Robert E. Howard. The Gates of Fire is a tale of men who would not submit; men who would give their very lives to give their countrymen a chance to live free.

Fans of military history or of heroic fantasy should consider this an absolute must read.


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