'-------------------------------------------------- Cascoly Books: Steven Pressfield

Cascoly Books - Steven Pressfield



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Tides of War : A Novel of Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War – Steven Pressfield 

After thoroughly enjoying his previous book, (Gates of Fire, about the battle of Thermopylae), I was disappointed in this follow-up book on Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian War.   In the first book, the idea of having a lone survivor tell his story to Xerxes worked well in both suspense and dramatic terms.  This time, the narrative is given at second and third hand, through the defender of Alcibiades’ assassin. The assassin also happens to be one of Alcibiades old friends, but since the book starts while he is awaiting trial, there is no dramatic buildup from this relationship.  The multiple narrators work well sometimes, but other times, it just becomes an excuse to quote from Alcibiades or others’ journals, piecemeal, interrupting what flow the novel achieves.  The background and progression of the Peloponnesian War is not given enough space, so the reader will need to provide this background separately.  The two maps are useful, but a third, showing Asia Minor in more detail would be helpful. 

The book does have its strengths – as before, the battle scenes are excellent, giving a vivid sense of what it must have been like as a hoplite in these times.  One set piece involves a night assault on a fortified hilltop; others depict the all or nothing dice rolls of naval warfare.   These are the highlights of the book.  (One reason Gates of Fire may be more successful is simply that it devotes a higher percentage of its story to the tactical bits.)  The other major strength is in depicting the political tentativeness with which all parties worked.  Neither Athenians nor Spartans compelled allies by their benevolence, and each sought to pull away the other’s confederates.  Alcibiades is shown to be several steps ahead of his compatriots, managing to survive exile, return and exile by presenting irresistible allures.  The greatest temptation is alliance with Persia, which soon reveals itself to be a pact with the devil for whichever side attempts it. 

In sum, this is a good book, recommended for anyone with an interest in the period (and there are few enough novels written about this era).   The politics and military aspects are excellent, and will get you through the slower plot devices.   But, if you haven’t read Gates of Fire yet, do start with that.


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