By Thomas E.
The first book took us through the early years in the life of Leonidas, focused as the title would indicate, largely on the agoge and the various rituals and training regimes that young men in Sparta underwent. It also let us know how romance and family relations in the city functioned, and how the perioiki and helots worked into this social system and structure. Now Leonidas is a grown man, a member of a mess, and a soldier in the army. He has taken it as his mission to become the "Peerless Peer" that the title aludes to, and we are given the opportunity to understand how a man could grow into one who would willingly sacrifice himself for his country.
We are given opportunity to see how the vaunted army functions, and how the kleros that maintains Spartan society actually works. For a city that strove towards an idyllic distribution of property that would make everyone equal, Schrader lays bare how one cannot legislate against greed and the machinations of the human spirit to protect ones family and build one’s own assets. There are villains and there are saints in Sparta, and Leonidas encounters them all.
The system of two kings is a recurring issue as well, in how it affects what is never more than a small city. The fact that Sparta was not always on a war footing comes up, and how families dealt with fathers, who basically were never around until they hit the age of thirty. It is a history book wrapped around a story that touches upon all the facets of the ancient world that one does not think about when envisioning such a place, but which make that place a real location that we visit through her writing. This is outstanding work, and we can all only hope that there is more to come.