All authors of historical fiction must draw from modern analogy to breathe life into long dead Spartan education system or Agoge. Other books have looked to the unlikely parallel of the barracks life of conscript marines, but she rightly sees the more accurate connections to an elite boarding school system. You realize in reading her novel, just as Leonidas does as the pages unfold, that the Agoge is not designed simply to make soldiers, but form Spartan citizens. The system produced men who would be hailed as a nation of philosophers as well as unmatched warriors. Just as importantly the system also produced women who scandalized the misogynists of other ancient societies with their unmatched freedom.
Schrader weaves a considerable amount of teaching into her novel in a remarkably readable fashion. I run a fairly successful blog on ancient Sparta and I found myself often trying to determine what sources she drew from for particular bits of information and where she inserted her own imagination. Much of this is accomplished through allowing us to see the lives of other characters through the lens of young Leonidas. While the young King is the focus of the novel, events often happen around him rather than to him, and I can understand why some would find this confusing if they were expecting a biography. But this book is as much about Spartan society as it is the life of one man.
Helena is a skilled writer, but the sheer density of information about characters and Spartan society conspire to slow the pacing of the early pages of the novel. She soon hits her stride though and does not look back. Chapter three alone is worth the price of the novel, providing insight into the complexity of Spartan social structures that are often glossed over. At once we can see why the system that made Sparta great also contained the seeds of her own destruction.