An entertaining debut historical novel that depicts tumultuous ancient Greece as seen through the eyes of a young, orphaned slave.
Damian is only 12 years old when his parents are killed and most of his village, followers of Orpheus’ gentle philosophy, are destroyed by marauders from another Greek village in the early sixth century B.C. He escapes with his tutors, but one of them sells Damian into slavery. At first, the young man performs menial labor on a construction site, but when his masters notice his skill at reading, writing, mathematics and running, he’s allowed to train for competitive races and work on building plans. After a spiteful master rapes and cripples Damian, the boy gets his revenge and escapes, and he’s eventually reunited with his beloved tutor, Lysis. The two travel to Delphi, Greece’s spiritual center, so that Damian may undergo ritual cleansing and serve as a tutor at Delphi’s school. He visits the famous Oracle, where he receives an enigmatic message that spurs him to investigate the meaning of his life. Debut author Iannella effectively presents the atmosphere of long-ago Greece, vividly describing its food, clothes, customs, landscape, religion and philosophy. (There are occasional missteps, including characters using the terms “okay” and “guys,” which readers may find a bit too modern, and eating potatoes, which didn’t make it to Greece until some two millennia later.) He also provides intriguing cultural discussions about the wisdom of sentencing prisoners to death versus banishing them, the real importance of good bookkeeping and the evergreen difficulty of teaching fractions. The novel also paints an engaging, well-rounded portrait of the tough-minded historical tyrant Kleisthenes; after an earthquake, for example, he goes where the fires are thickest, using his authority for the most good. The story perhaps supplies a few too many opportunities for Damian to play the hero, which might have been pruned to better effect. Damian’s adventures will continue in a planned second volume.
Absorbing adventures in ancient Greece, full of betrayal, friendship, mysticism and science.