GATES OF FIRE by Steven Pressfield

GATES OF FIRE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A triumph in historical fiction best describes this stirring account of the famous battle of Thermopylae, told by the lone survivor before succumbing to his wounds, in a logical follow-up to Pressfield’s Homeric take on golf, The Legend of Bagger Vance (1995). The young squire Xeones is pulled from beneath a burned battle wagon when the carnage finally ends at the narrow mountain pass where, in 480 b.c., three hundred Spartans and a small allied force fought off, for a full week, the two-million-man army of Persian king Xerxes. Xeones is kept alive by the king’s own physicians in the hope that he—ll tell His Majesty all there is to know about those sublimely disciplined warriors who accomplished so great a victory. In a series of interviews recorded by the royal historian, Xeones recounts his own origins: forced to flee, newly orphaned, when his own city was sacked, he lived hand-to-mouth in the mountains until deciding to go to Sparta in order to learn all there was to know about defending himself. As he recalls Xerxes— army rolling inexorably into Athens, burning the city after a token defense, the survivor describes the decades of hard training endured by every Spartan male, and also the contacts he had with his youthful sparring partner, the silver-throated, sensitive Alexandros, and with the fair-minded, modest Dienekes (whose squire he would become). But by the time Xeones comes to the crux of his story, involving the mighty battle itself and the heroic actions of his comrades-in-arms, things have started to go awry again for the Persians. Although he will soon join his friends in death, Xeones lives long enough to know that their sacrifice was not in vain. While the romantic interests are somewhat stilted, the man-to-man and mano-a-mano elements are all superb, with a fine, elegiac tone—to be expected, frankly, given the subject—enhancing equally the historical details and the human touches. (Literary Guild and Military Book Club selection; film rights to Universal Studios)

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1998
ISBN: 0-385-49251-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1998




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