Protector (Athenian #2) by Conn Iggulden

‘The king of Persia looked across the heart of Athens.’

Xerxes, Themistocles, Xanthippus, Aristides, Pausanias  … names I remember from studying ancient Greek history last century. Names that Mr Iggulden brings to life in this novel, the second in his Athenian series. While I have not yet read the first book in this series (I missed it, somehow) it is possible to read this as a standalone.

Set during the second Persian invasion of Greece, this novel deals with the battles of Salamis (480 BCE) and Plataea (479 BCE). As the novel opens, the situation is desperate. The Athenians have fled: women and children have been evacuated; able-bodied men are serving on the fleet. Athens burns. The Persian force is huge. How can the Greeks win against such overwhelming odds?

Through the perspectives of different characters, primarily Themistocles and Xanthippus, Mr Iggulden takes us into the battles. The battle at Plataea captured and held my attention: we alternate between Aristides and Mardonius, from one side to the other, as the advantage shifts between the opposing armies. And after the battle? Mr Iggulden takes us further.

 And now I need to read the first book, while waiting for a third.

‘The war was over, but it had taken their youth and all that was good.’

Jennifer Cameron-Smith