Killer of Men (Long War 1)
To begin at the beginning… How many series have you read where you pick up the first book to find an iron-hard, three-dimensional, experienced and world-weary hero awaiting you? They are, barring the anti-hero, the best characters to both read and write. But how often do you get to see that hero created?
That is what Killer of Men is. In terms of superhero movies, this is a great hero’s ‘origin story’. It is the very creation of a hero. Or possibly not quite a hero. After all, an instinctive killer, drawn to war like iron filings to a magnet is not by definition the same as a hero.
Moreover, the book is set during one of the greatest clashes of culture in the history of the world: Greece vs. Persia. But again, in the same way as the novel is the story of the origin of the hero, it is also the story of the origin of that war (it is called the Long War saga for a reason. This was a loooooong war.) And that means that Killer of Men takes place during the Ionian revolt at the very beginning of the great Greek/Persian war.
So what of the actual story?
Arimnestos is an ordinary boy. He is the son of a talented blacksmith who has also had the honour and duty of standing as a hoplite in the line of battle for his small city-state of Plataea. As his city is inevitably dragged into the world stage via a perhaps unwise allegiance with the upcoming demos of Athens, Arimnestos begins a journey of his own. In sickening blurb terms, one might say: from zero to hero.
Sent from his family to study with a retired warrior, Arimnestos learns the skills of the soldier and the hunter, but despite that, not yet the ‘killer of men’ for which the book is named. As the wheel of time turns and he grows to young manhood, the Plataean finds himself in battle against the greatest warriors of his age, the Spartans, on the Athenian flank. Following the battle and a betrayal by one of his own, Arimnestos finds himself alone, with a dead father and brother and sold into slavery.
But here his journey really begins. As a slave (and companion to a young noble) in Ephesus, Arimnestos learns from one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world, improves his battle skills and is introduced on a very personal level to the Persian people and their leaders.
Well, I won’t spoil the story. But Arimnestos has been a blacksmith’s son, a soldier, and then a slave. He will also be a ship’s navarch, a sportsman, a war-hero, an avenger, and so much more as he succumbs to fate and becomes the killer of men that is his destiny. But throughout the whole tale of his growth to manhood, there is always the background thread that Arimnestos was betrayed, disinherited and sold as a slave. And we know from early in the book that this situation will have to be resolved before the end.
Well that’s the book and the plot and the hero. As for the style? Is anyone not familiar yet with Christian Cameron’s fluid and absorbing work? He writes masterpieces or nothing at all.
In technical terms, while my own knowledge of the world of ancient Greece is much scanter than my knowledge of Rome, I have yet to trip him up with any fact, and he has taught me so much through his writing. He knows his subject thoroughly. He is conversant to an undreamed of extent. Moreover, Cameron is both a reenactor and a military veteran, both of which lend a huge level of authenticity to his scenes of strife. And I mean to a level that few civilians could ever hope to touch.
Cameron is, for me, a composite of all I like in my ancient novels. He can write the stink, terror and chaos of battle as well as Ben Kane, the cameraderie and humour like Tony Riches, the depth of character and inrigue like Douglas Jacskon and the sheer emotion like Manda Scott. As such, he is capable of producing work that speaks to readers of all forms of historical fiction, to every facet of a reader’s soul.
Killer of Men is the saga of a young man driven to the edge of reason and finding in his darkest hour the clarity of the born warrior. It is a tale of growth and of finding oneself, and of revenge and heroism. It is everything you could want in historical fiction.
I cannot recommend the Long War series highly enough. Check in tommorrow for a review on book 2: Marathon.