Spoils of Olympus
An unusual era is tackled well by a new author in this engaging read. Set in an era about which I have some knowledge but am far from ‘knowledgeable’, this is a tale of the aftermath of the death of Alexander the Great and the jostling for position of his varied successors, told from the point of view of a young recruit. Andrikos is forced to flee his small Anatolian town after a run in with some lowlifes leaves him in trouble, and he heads off to join the army and get away for a while.
Cue the meat of the story, which is a military saga set amid battles, raids and individual ‘secret’ missions of which Andrikos finds himself part. For those of you who like your Historical Fiction strewn with battles and bodies, this is your kind of book. It is fairly graphic and brutal, but that is largely tempered by the fact that it is told from the point of view of the young recruit, with all his own problems, glories, cameraderie and excitement.
I understand from his website that Kachel is ex-military, having served in the Middle East, and that comes as no surprise. Reading this book I would have guessed that the man writing the combat scenes had personal experience of same, and especially the harsh military training which occupies much of the first half of the book. The feeling of realism is strong and there is little hint of outlandishness about it.
Indeed, the book does to some extent come over as a Macedonian/Hellenistic sort of ‘Heartbreak Ridge’. That’s not a complaint… I love that movie. But it is a fairly concise way of putting forward what I felt about the book. So, given what I’ve said, you’ve probably already decided whether you’re interested in it. I would certainly recommend it to readers of ancient military histfic readers. I will leave you with one up and one down about it:
Kachel has clearly done a great deal of research into the era. His knowledge of the military, politics and social culture of the post-Alexandrian era comes through in the text. For me it was an informative as well as engaging read. As I say, I’m no expert on the era, but he comes across as very knowledgable, and I doubt most potential readers would find much to complain about in that respect.
For me, Spoils of Olympus: By the Sword was a solid 4 star read. In terms of story and characterisation, it could well have been a 5. And although there were typos (‘route’ for ‘rout’) and incorrectly-chosen words (‘they accosted his background’) here and there, what knocked a star down for me was the inclusion of a certain type of modern phrasing that somewhat shatters the historical illusion (early on in the book, for instance, I came across the phrase ‘pussywhipped’ which was the worst of these that I read and stuck in my head all the way through.)
So there you go. A relatively small negative against a swathe of positives. If the ancient military is your thing, I suspect you’ll enjoy this book. Give it a try.