The Fire of Ares
Digital version – browse, print or download
Receive the latest news & reviews direct to your inbox!
The blurb on the back of my proof copy of Michael Ford’s first children’s novel prompts us to ‘think Young Bond in a short leather skirt; think Caroline Lawrence meets Gladiator!’ Neither of these odd visions fits the bill, although a transvestite 007 is probably in some writer’s notebook somewhere. This is a boys’ adventure set in Sparta, which concentrates on the brutal training that young men underwent to become warriors. There is a threadbare plot draped around these bare bones. Lysander is a Helot (slave) who wears a mysterious jewelled pendant that turns out to confer on him a heritage that’s exalted even for a Spartan. In training, he is bullied both by the tutor and one of the other boys, to the point of nearly being thrown down a well and really being used as a target for javelin practice. Eventually and inevitably, he wins a trial of strength, skill and endurance against his main tormentor. The training regime has a dreadful fascination but there is little else in the novel that’s interesting. The characterisation is thin; the mystery of the stolen pendant fails to grip; there is only a faint impression of Sparta as a functioning society (although plenty of incidental historical detail); and the ending, in which a slave uprising ends without bloodshed –‘You have vanquished the Spartans today without shedding blood. This day will live on in their minds as the day the Helots spared them’ – is surely without precedent in ancient, and probably modern, history. A sequel follows later this year.