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The Isle of Stone: A Novel of Ancient Sparta [Kindle Edition]

Nicholas Nicastro
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

More information to be announced soon on this forthcoming title from Penguin USA.

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Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 546 KB
  • Print Length: 388 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0451217128
  • Publisher: Signet (6 Dec. 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002DYMB0S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #563,786 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
4.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Novel of Ancient Sparta 17 Sept. 2007
By J. Chippindale TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is the first book that I have read by the author and I enjoyed it very much. I love books on ancient history, both fact and fiction so I suppose I am a little biased in that respect. The book is a story of two cities on the Greek mainland. The city of Athens, home to some of the finest minds and the finest writers of the period and the fierce and unbeaten Sparta.

The book tells the story of four hundred Spartan soldiers who are cut off by Athenian ships on a narrow strip of land. Although they are almost starving and have no hope of receiving any supplies, they vow to uphold their tradition as warriors and never give in. Meanwhile the Athenian navy make ready for the inevitable assault . . .
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The perfect companion for all historical fiction enthusiasts is THE ROMA VICTRIX WINE BEAKERCalix Imperium, Roma Victrix Pewter wine beaker

Nicholas Nicastro's "The Isle of Stone" is an ambitious piece of historical fiction recounting the first time in classical Greece that a Spartan army actually surrendered. Mr. Nicastro weaves a tale of ancient Sparta that is seemingly accurate and diametrically opposed to movies like 300. Ironically, a number of scenes read like B-movies and TV shows. In any case, the novel contains many interesting and well developed characters but is a little skimpy with the action. Some characters, like the helot Doulos, I wish were more fully developed so that when their time came to cross the river Styx I would feel something more than "oh well."
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Forgettable novel 3 July 2008
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Although there is nothing wrong with this book, I didn't found the narrative compelling. With the so-called "historical novels", there are the ones that strive to focus more on the "factual" events and the ones that choose to favour the drama. This book wasn't historically very detailed but at the same time lacked a lot in drama. The events simply happened, almost from nowhere.
Although it is not a book I regret to have bought, the author does not seem to be at the level of Bernard Cornwell or Conn Iggulden.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 5 Aug. 2009
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I truly enjoyed reading this volume. Nicholas Nicastro has got the tone and pace right.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  43 reviews
62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good, in its Own Way, as Gates of Fire 23 Dec. 2005
By Stuart W. Mirsky - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I love a good historical novel though I'm leery of picking them up these days since so many disappoint. This one, I'm delighted to say, did not. In fact, although it had a few dry moments, it captured me as only the best fiction can, reeling me in until I found myself still reading as the clock approached 2 A.M., unwilling to put it aside until I'd reached the final page. What better testament of a book's quality is there than that?

In some ways I liked Nicastro's new novel even better than Pressfield's Gates of Fire which is a long time favorite of mine. Nicastro handled the Greeks more tellingly and to better effect, I think, than Pressfield did (though it's a long time since I read Gates). More, while I found myself liking Nicastro's Spartans a good deal less than I had Pressfield's, no doubt because Nicastro removed the romantic gloss one finds over everything in the Pressfield book, I still became fascinated by, and oddly attracted to, the personas of the main characters including Antalcidas, the spurned and wounded son, and Damatria his even more deeply damaged mother.

One generation, Nicastro shows us, passes its pain to the next, giving us these Spartans in all their proto-fascist harshness as they torment and dominate the Helots who serve them. But we also see, in stark terms, just how this hard-edged society which the Spartans have built themselves wears down and destroys its own leading adherents no less than the enslaved Helots who live in fear beneath them.

The battle scenes weren't as glorious as Pressfield does them but the horror and futility of it all is so much clearer. Nor do the Athenians come off much better. All are human beings in utterly human circumstances, doing what must be done to get by. Some are fools and some are wise but even the wise are only men, ruled by circumstances and events. There were a few things I didn't care for: the author uses an ominscient narrator's voice, redolent of 19th century writing which jars a bit when it manifests. But, frankly, Nicastro makes it work anyway and it's not ultimately distracting. I also wasn't keen on Nicastro's decision to jump about in telling his tale, from one point of view to another, from the Laconian Valley of the Peloponnesians to Athens and back again. But he made that work, too.

In sum he surmounted the obstacles he set for himself, like the Spartans surmount the jagged rocks of Sphacteria where they are ultimately trapped by the Athenian general Demosthenes. I especially liked the book's end which gives us no heroic posturing, no larger than life champions surpassing all others, but only men and women, trapped in their own worlds, unable to free themselves and reduced, at last, to accepting what life has cast up from the sea beyond.

Nicastro makes them all live again in the pain they endure and, uncomprehendingly, inflict on those around them. In so doing he has restored the flesh of belief to the bones of the ancient world. I'm glad I took a chance on this one.

Stuart W. Mirsky author of The King of Vinland's Saga

P.S. Here are some other quite decent works of historical fiction for those with a fairly broad range of interest:

With Fire and Sword - Polish knights errant battle to save the kingdom in the face of a rising by the Cossacks

Shogun - English navigator shipwrecked with his crew on the coast of medieval Japan with no way to make it home again

Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae - Spartan heroes battle to save their homeland in the face of an epic Persian invasion

Musashi: An Epic Novel of the Samurai Era - Itinerant Japanese peasant soldier struggles to remake himself as a master samurai and strategist
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The isle of pain 28 May 2006
By D. Roberts - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this historical novel, Nicastro details the two lowest points of Spartan history: the disastrous earthquake of 464BCE and the surrender of the island on Sphacteria in 425. Nicastro frames a story around two brothers who have a twisted nexus between these two events.

The primary source for the story of Sphacteria is from Book IV of Thucydides The History of the Peloponnesian War. At first glance, the siege of Sphacteria does not seem to be the most exciting topic to write a book about. In truth, it is not the most exciting event in military history. That said, Nicastro does a terrific job of captivating the reader with an interesting story that's full of anectodes about Spartan life.

The book is very well-researched. Nicastro summoned the assistance of leading authorities on ancient Sparta (such as Paul Cartledge of Cambridge and Anton Powell) to re-create the historical drama with authenticity. Likewise, the author also gives details from the Athenian point of view as well. Even scholars who are familiar with Thucydides may learn some of the subtle details of the siege.

While many of the details of this book are fabricated (not a knock on the novel), the basic story is true. Sphacteria was the first known time that Spartan hoplites ever surrendered to the enemy. The fallout had a big effect on both sides of the war. For that reason, this book is highly recommended to all persons who have an interest in classical history.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good depiction, weak plot. 11 Oct. 2006
By blake.taylor - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a fan of Pressfield's novels about the Greeks, I thought I'd branch out and try another author writing on the topic. I certainly enjoyed Nicastro's candid portrayal of the Spartans and feel that he does an excellent job of giving a general depiction of Spartan attitude and lifestyle, but I didn't find the particular plot as interesting or engaging as I thought I might. The book never dragged too terribly, but it never really excited me either.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly entertaining book 6 Dec. 2005
By David B. Hollander - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Ostensibly an account of one critical campaign in the Peloponnesian War, Nicholas Nicastro's Isle of Stone is really much more: a richly imagined peek inside totalitarian Sparta. The novel has at least three things going for it: story, writing and historical accuracy.

Story: The Pylos campaign, which culminated in the siege of Sphacteria, was one of the most curious episodes in the long war between Athens and Sparta yet Thucydides, the great historian of that conflict, does not describe it in much detail. It certainly merited a fuller treatment. Nicastro's narrative primarily focuses on the Spartan troops trapped on the island but we also meet the Athenian politician/general Nicias and his rival, the demagogue Cleon. The crew of the Athenian trireme Terror make a number of appearances and provide a bit of comic relief.

Writing: The novel is extremely well written. The characters and dialogue in historical novels can often seem silly or anachronistic but that is not the case here. Antalcidas and Damatria, the two main characters, really come to life and the final chapters are genuinely moving.

Accuracy: Nicastro clearly did a thorough job of research, consulting both ancient texts and the latest research to build up a convincing picture of Spartan society. I learned a few things while reviewing the manuscript (see page 361) though, I hasten to add, the prose is never didactic. Ancient Sparta isn't exactly the most well documented society so some imagination was necessary but in this novel the gaps are filled with very plausible speculation.

Though it lacks the clever framing device and famous main character of his Empire of Ashes, Isle of Stone is definitely the better book. There are a couple typos but the most glaring one concerns the accent marks on a Greek word (page 309) so few readers will probably notice. Overall this is a highly entertaining novel.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accurate and devastating 2 Feb. 2006
By Raymond Nance - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have to differ with some of the opinions of the two reviewers below-- this book (and this author) is an impressive departure from the competition. On the surface, Nicastro knows his facts, and he knows how to build dramatic tension into this story of the famous siege of Sphacteria in 425 BC. On a deeper level, he illuminates both what is familiar and alien about the people and cultures of these ancient worlds. Perhaps most risky for him, he doesn't pander to the expectations of his readers--he challenges them. For this reason Nicastro will probably never be as popular as Stephen Pressfield, who skillfully but unfortunately peddles many heroic cliches about the Spartans in "Gates of Fire". Yet it is impressive that this author succeeds in being both true to the period, and highly relevant to the politics of this moment--a quality this book shares with "Empire of Ashes".

Readers should note that Paul Cartledge, perhaps the world's foremost expert on Sparta, has enthusiastically endorsed this book, as has historian/author Barry ("The Battle of Salamis") Strauss. The novel's accuracy is unquestionable--it just remains to be seen whether readers warm up to Nicastro's uncompromising vision.
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