Helena P. Schrader has the kind of academic credentials that make you wonder what you did with your life. Growing up in Japan, Brazil, England, and the United States she has degrees from the University of Michigan, Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Hamburg. After writing several non-fiction books focusing on WWII, she turned her attention to fiction. This academic zeal for research shows up in her books, and is very prevalent in the "Leonidas" series. She also owns a home in what was once called Lacedeamon, or more commonly, Sparta.
This book is the first in a trilogy that walk through the life of Leonidas, the legendary king of Sparta. Unlike other such texts, this one makes liberal use of citations to the historical record, and where no such record is available the author explains why she choose to go the way she did. She is also very open about what is conjecture or writers license on her part. Obviously everybody knows how the book will end, so there is considerable pressure to make the parts in between worthwhile, logical, consistent, and reflective of what the historical and archaeological would have us believe occured. This is where Schrader shines.
As the title implies, this book focuses heavily on the Agoge, that almost mythical Spartan insitutation of education and training. The book actually opens with Leonidas receiving the oracle that damns him to his fate, and then jumps back to the future kings childhood. We are treated to life in the palace, and an indepth examination of life in the five villages that make up Sparta. The view presented here and throughout the series conflicts with more idyllic apperances in other tales, such as Gates of fire by Pressfield. Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae However, her examples all make sense, are explained, and ring true to how a society such as Sparta would develop.
The Messenian helots are touched upon, and the rituals of growing up are expounded upon. How would a child orphaned early develop, and in an almost Harry Potter like fashion, how would such a child wield wealth? How do you grow up to be the man that offers himself up as sacrifice? This book lays the foundation. It is a great read, and yet it is the weakest of the trilogy. It is where one must start, and nobody will be disappointed by it. Just know that what follows is even better.
To read more about the Leonidas Trilogy click here.
To see the video teaser on YouTube click here.
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