on 24 September 2012
Christian Cameron is now starting to emerge as one of the leading historical novelists of the day. I first read 'Tyrant' some 5 years or so ago and loved the deep Hellenic flavour and character depth of the cast list but thought the style too slow to gain mainstream popularity. Then he seemed to swing to far over to the 'action packed' super hero stylee and I felt lost something as a result, though he seemed to gain mass appeal. Now he seems to have his writing absolutely spot on! Perfectly balanced between historic detail and action. His character's are flawed and believable, his story lines are random enough to keep you on your toes and his heroes though super tough are now fallible, and don't always get the girl.
All of which means I find myself giving him an unprecedented third 5 star award!
Plot synopsis (as unspoiling as possible)
This was a wonderful little greek Odyssey, seemingly inspired well by THE Odyssey. Arimnestos returns from Marathon to find trajedy waiting for him at home and decides to end it all by throwing himself off a cliff. He is pulled out of the waters and saved from probable death only to be lashed to an oar as a galley slave by his seeming saviours. This marks a two year voyage that will see him escape.. (come on it would have been a damn boring book otherwise) jion a brotherhood, indulge in a bit more piracy, brave the Atlantic, pop to Britian..... Look it's a huge adventure best not spoilt by the likes of me!
What Cameron can do better probably even than Cornwell and Robert Low now, is write a chaotic historical yarn that still gels as a story rather than feeling just like a random series of events. He does this by the very clever 'first person' telling of the tale, so you are sitting on the shoulder of Arimnestos through out, and the human narrative and relationships which gives the story a series of sub 'soap' plots in addition to the action and adventure. This not only adds depth and dimension but gives a real feel of the camaradarie of men at war. Add to this Cameron's own passion for the period and subsequent research and the result is something quite special I think.
I did worry after the brilliant 'God of War' that this would be a bit of a return to Cameron's more 'bread and butter' off the peg style, but not a bit of it, I think he is much better than that now.
Top stuff, just go careful in all that re-enactment malarkey Christian we some more of this.
on 13 January 2013
While the first two books in the series - 'Killer Of Men' & 'Marathon' - are excellent reading, 'Poseidon's Spear' starts off in the same vein, with the added ingredient of Dagon thrown into the mix, and we do get to see a different side of Arimnestos through out most of the book.
But, there are just a few too many trips on the ocean waves, like driving up and down the motorway and stopping at every service station, too many stops to really keep track of the journey.
As far as historical accuracy goes, the tin trade was obviously pivotal to the survival of the different cultures, ports, and those who risked life and limb extracting it from the mines. This is very well researched, and plays a large part in the book.
While the story flows along at a good pace, several times we re-read the all too familiar stranded at sea with no food or water, which gets a little repetitive, along with the ships battles.
Towards the end of the book some of the old characters reappear, and remind you of the first two books, and you wish the story continued on dry land with some of the familiar characters from the battle of marathon.
This third book in the series is slightly disappointing, and some previous reviews seem a bit 'author biased', regardless of the actual content. Even some of the best authors can have a bad day at the office.
We will have to wait for the next installment of the tale of Arimnestos, and hope he gets back on dry land more often, hopefully back in the direction of Plataea.
For me, just four stars this time round.
on 18 September 2013
As a history of Ancient Greece, it's hard to fault Poseidon's Spear, but as a historical novel it is deeply flawed. Maybe that is what lies at the root of the novel's problems, that the budding academic in Cameron forgot he was writing fiction, when what he really wanted to write was a book on trade in Classical Greece.
Firstly, my big problem was of the literary flavour. The jacket carries the tag 'an epic quest for revenge,' which would give the reader the idea that this book is going to be a story driven by a revenge plot, a storyline that is not resolved in this volume. It is nothing of the sort, rather a travelogue of trading in the Mediterranean and Iron Age Spain, France and Britain (which bizarrely jumps between the Greek and Roman names of places), leaving the story drifting along, and lacking the plot to thrust it forward. The novel really struggles to get going, and I struggled to get excited about it, nothing really gripping happened until page 150, but even then it was like a beached-whale. The book did improve near the end, but it could have really ended twenty pages earlier, which would have left it with a much stronger conclusion. Plot wise, it repeated the same motifs of previous Cameron books (even the same turn of phrase), and its starting to make the author predictable. What was most disappointing is the brief slavery storyline, I had enjoyed this in Killer of Men, and thought that Cameron's return to the theme would have been a deeper exploration of slavery and the exploitation of human life in Ancient Greece, but disappointingly it turns out it was just a plot device. And this is what I finished the book feeling, that this was not a novel in its own right, just a way for Cameron to manoeuvre Arimnestos into position for Artemesium and Thermopylae. But to be honest, you can skip this book and pick up where you left off with The Great King.
What I loved most about Cameron's previous books is his ability to world-build, and bring Ancient Greece to life, but was sadly lacking in this book. His portrayal of the still tribal Romans was a bit too knowing, and the Estrucians should have been the powerful Italic tribes (and I'm doubtful Roman culture was as developed as it is here.) Disappointingly, the Britons are described pretty much as the Keltoi, instead as a separate peoples, which they where; and Cameron falls back on cliché and doesn't seem to have researched as in depth as he would have. Ultimately, leaving this reader feeling he had bitten off more than he could chew.
Three stars, which may seem harsh, but I am judging this book against the standards of Cameron's previous work, and find it wanting.
As a self-confessed addict of Christian Cameron's books I start to worry about the veracity of my reviews and opinions when a new book is due out, but as ever I will attempt, poorly, to describe his latest book.
Poseidon's Spear is not your normal historical fiction title (but none of his books are) this book goes even further. You don't get the steady build to a final battle, you don't even get a final battle, there are many small skirmishes that feel more real for their instant violence and then return to normality. You dont get the standard flawed man does good. You dont get hero and sidekick. You get something much more real, what you get is one persons personal journey through life, and in the case of Poseidon's Spear though hell and back.
Poseidon's Spear is one mans personal journey through a very dark period in his life. His battle against odds that would kill many a person, a journey through the bowels of the ancient world. A view of the depravity that men could inflict on other men in the ancient world (and lets face it still do).
We see this man, Arimnestos's journey back, we see what true friends are worth and how rich a man truly is with real friends.
We see a man who has regrets and deals with them the same as each and every one of us does.
We see the Resurrection of Arimnestos of Plataea.
I have said since it came out that God of War was the book of the year 2012. I have now been proved a liar.
Poseidon's Spear has now taken its place. I'm not a person to live the emotions of a book, I would normally read and enjoy the plot and style, but its impossible not to get sucked into the emotion of this book as well, to not to have to fight back the tears with Arimnestos, not to feel his pain to suffer along side him.
This was by far the most exhausting exhilarating book I have ever read physically and emotionally.
My highest Recommendation
Other new books by this great author
Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part One: CastillonTom Swan and the Head of St George Part Two: Venice
Tom Swan and the Head of St George Part Three: Constantinople
Arimnestos of Plataea is a man who has seen and done things that most men only dream about. Sold into slavery as a boy, he fought his way to freedom - and then to everlasting fame at the Battle of Marathon where the Greeks crushed the invading Persians. Sometimes, however, a man's greatest triumph is followed by his greatest sorrow.Returning to his farm, Arimnestos finds that his wife Euphoria has died in childbirth, and in an instant his laurels turn to dust. But the gods are not finished with Arimnestos yet. With nothing left to live for, he throws himself from a cliff into the sea, only to be pulled by strong arms from death's embrace. When he awakes he finds himself chained to an oar in a Phoenician trireme. And so begins an epic journey that will take Arimnestos and a motley crew of fellow galley slaves to the limits of their courage and beyond the edge of the known world, in a quest for freedom, revenge - and a cargo so precious it is worth dying for.
on 11 February 2013
In the parallel 'Tyrant' series by Christian Cameron I felt that the third volume - while still thoroughly enjoyable - was a touch disappointing because of its shifting focus and seemingly arbitrary string of events. I am tempted to say the same in the case of 'Poseidon's Spear'. At least, in the present series, the ancient Greek hero Arimnestos of Plataea (also the narrator) remains in the centre and continues to knit the series together with his rueful commentaries on life-lessons learned and wilfully ignored. There also seems to be a deliberate effort to make this book fresh and different by taking a 'darker' tone than its predecessors, with a brutal opening sequence and several cases of action for which Arimnestos can only condemn himself. Also on the plus side, the geographical coverage makes a leap into the (almost literally) unknown by taking our hero on a voyage through the Pillars of Hercules, reaching as far as the Isle of Wight and returning through various intriguing Celtic tribes in ancient Gaul. Added to Cameron's gift for bringing everyday details of practice and technology to life, all this justifies the 'thoroughly enjoyable' remark - which should hold good for new readers as well as established fans.
On the other side, the enormous itinerary covered by the book, and the scant time spent in getting to know each location (and the people linked with it), works against a deep feeling of involvement or emotional tension. None of Arimnestos's new relationships seems to match the intensity of his dealings with Briseis and her family, or with his own family come to that. The sheer number of catastrophes, surprises and escapes rather devalues the currency. Even the compelling theme of Arimnestos's hatred for the brutal Dagon is left hanging, as the enemies have still not met again by the end of the book - though a reckoning is promised in some future instalment.
In the end, both the best and worst that could be said about this volume in Arimnestos's autobiography is that it left me wanting the next one!
on 11 August 2015
So where can Cameron take us? Arimnestos of Plataea is a grown man now, fully trained and experienced. He has fought in and won one of the greatest battles of the age. But after Marathon, the world has changed, and so has our hero. Life as he has known it has gone.
It is all too wasy for a writer with a series to fall into a rut. Too easy to just keep telling the same story over and over again with minor variations or just to continue to tell a saga in fairly repetitive chunks. A few authors will, once their series is settled, run off at a tangent to explore new ideas and new themes and styles. It can be a gamble, as some readers will always just want more of the same. But if it’s done right it can invigorate and frshen an ongoing series. Sort of like a sorbet palate cleanser between courses. With Poseidon’s Spear, Cameron has done just that.
This is not a tale of war or family. It is not a tale of Greeks and Persians. This is the very spirit of adventure. A series of events conspire to see Ari at sea once more, where he falls foul of the powerful and dangerous Carthaginians and finds himself a slave, tortured and tested to the limit of his endurance. Really, there is too much in terms of twists and turns, changes and stories in this tale to relate them individually, and that would just ruin the book for you. Essentially, once he is freed from the clutches of the unpleasant Carthaginian ‘Dagon’ he sets off on his greatest adventure, collecting new friends on the way, including other former slaves.
The Carthaginians control the trade in tin, which is needed by smiths and armourers across the Mediterranean world, and Ari and his friends soon form a plan to secure tin and make themselves rich. Not through trade with Massalia or Carthaginian Spain, but by going directly to the source: a misty, cold semi-mythical island far to the north that one day will be Britain. Of course, to get there by ship requires that a sailor pass the Pillars of Hercules and sail out into the great western ocean. In those days, with the ships of the Greek world, such a journey was all but impossible and only legendary sailors of myth had done so comfortably.
This begins a journey that will see Romans and Africans and Greeks and Gauls sharing ships, making and losing fortunes, finding and losing loves, all as they journey in search of the source of tin. In the process, Ari will pick up an Illyrian prince (whose own fate forms the last part of the book), become a hunted man and an enemy of Carthage, shed his preconceptions of the non-Greek world and open himself to the great wealth of experience that is the west.
For the reader, seeing the Pre-Roman west through the eyes of a wonder-filled Greek is a fascinating process, and it certainly made me wish I could go back and rewrite some of the Gallo-Roman work I have penned with one eye on this fascinating portrayal of the world.
As always, Cameron’s experiences with the military and reenactment inform his text and give everything a realism and accuracy that few could match. But what came across more in book 3 was the surprising level of knowledge the author seems to have concerning the world of ancient ships and sailing. I can only assume that among his talents and experience, Cameron has also sailed ships somewhat. And I am quite stunned by his portrayal of pre-Roman France, Spain and Britain, considering Cameron’s Canadian residence and American nationality. It feels accurate and immersive.
All in all, a departure for the series, a wonderful palate cleanser, and yet at the same time a great continuation of the saga of Arimnestos of Plataea. Oh, and the conclusion? Well Ari has now a new and great enemy out there somewhere we know will come up again, but also the end scenes come as something of a surprise, and set up the opening of book 4 beautifully.
on 26 February 2013
This time Ari is not only a killer of men but also a Killer on the seas as well. This trip takes Ari to face new fears and make new enemies and friends. To go on a Adventure to find riches on the far away place called Alba. With a band of brothers through hardships and near certain deaths events and places where they find each other, this book will give you a story which can tell you more about how Christian Cameron see's and tells his story of Arimnestos of Plataea, a Killer of Men and
Warrior of the Seas!
on 5 August 2013
I enjoyed reading "Poseidon's Spear", not least for its interesting plot centering around the Ancient Mediterranean world's tin trade. However, there were a couple of niggles for me that unfortunately jolted me out of my absorption in the story. The first was Cameron's misunderstanding of what a "thranite" was: according to the author on two separate occasions in the book, thranites were the oarsmen on the lowest tier of a trireme, whereas in actual fact they were the oarsmen on the uppermost tier. Those on the lowest tier were actually called "thalamians"; I was a thalamian myself in the Olympias (reconstructed trireme) sea trials in Greece back in the late 1980s. This fundamental error therefore brings an element of hubris to Cameron's statement in his afterword - "I pride myself on research". I am a fan of the series and I really hope that he re-reads Morrison and Coates' book on the trireme reconstruction before writing the book that will deal with the battle of Salamis.
There were also a couple of positional/directional errors which I found a tad frustrating, such as when the sun, as viewed from Illyria (on the east side of the Adriatic), is seen rising over Italy, to the west.
All in all, though, I very much enjoyed reading "Poseidon's Spear" and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
I was rather surprised by this book, although it was a very agreeable one. I was expecting, perhaps like others will have, that we would get treated to Arimnestos serving abroad as a mercenary captain, perhaps in Sicily, in the ten years or so that separate Marathon from the second phase of the Greco-Persian Wars. I got it entirely wrong, hence my surprise.
Instead, I found something much better and more original, with the hero attempting to commit suicide, picked up and ending up as an almost broken and tortured slave on a Carthaginian ship. He does manage to survive and get away, but more by luck - and almost miraculously - than by any heroic feat. He does get to Syracuse, but cannot get back to a normal life and leaves with some companions on a voyage that seems to be a bit of mix between Jason's quest for the golden fleece and Ulysses' peregrinations across the Mediterranean. Except that this is a rather different story. Arimnestos and his crew seek to discover from where the Carthaginians get their tin from, a secret that these seek to keep at all costs in order to continue to corner the market as they had been doing for so long.
As usual, Christian Cameron tells a superbly well-researched and well-structured story.
Arimnestos was, as the author mentions, a true character and did command the Plateans at Marathon. I think he also took part in the battle of Platea against the Persians. A number of the other characters that we come across in the book, such as Cimon, the son of Miltiades, or Aeschyle, who also fought at Marathon, are also historical. So is Gelon, the Tyrant of Syracuse, whose policies and personality in the book also reflect what can be found in the historical sources. Then we get the somewhat complex, torn and twisted personality of the hero himself who, given the ordeal that he has gone through, has for a time lost (somewhat understandably!) quite a bit of his self-confidence. Unlike another reviewer, I was not particularly sucked into the emotions of the hero. Although the changes that he go through and what would perhaps qualify as some king of very serious post traumatic disorder nowadays are very interesting, I admit that I have no idea as to whether this is realistic or not. It feels just about possible, if not always entirely plausible, given what he is put through.
Another fascinating theme is the descriptions of the Punic and Phoenicians, the lands to the West, the "Outer Sea" (our Atlantic) and the very nasty surprises that it could reserve for sailors in galleys used to the Mediterranean. Here, as he mentions himself in his note, Christian Cameron has used Robin Lane Fox's "Travelling Heroes", probably along a number of other sources. The Phoenicians founded colonies across North Africa, Spain, Sicily and Sardinia of which Carthage (which means the new city in Phoenician) was the most powerful and is the most well-known.
Initially, they built themselves a commercial Empire across the Mediterranean made up of a collection of trading posts. They were indeed infamous for slave trading, although they were not the only ones. They were also famous for the gold and - even more so - for the large amounts of silver that they brought back from Spain and which, initially, was necessary to pay the Assyrian Kings their tribute so that their mother cities (Arados, Tyr, Sidon, Byblos etc...) would not be destroyed. Finally, and this is the item Christian Cameron insists the most upon, they had access to the very large quantities of tin mined in what is now Cornwall. As the book shows, there was tin elsewhere around the Mediterranean, but in much smaller quantities. The relative rarity of what was one of the two main ingredients needed to make bronze (the other was copper) whose use was ubiquitous in the Ancient Mediterranean and remained so for centuries even after smiths started working iron, explains the mystery and extreme measures that Punic and Phoenician cities took to preserve the secrecy of their supply source and prevent anyone else, and Greeks in particular, from accessing it by sea. This is one of the reasons why a land route along the Rhône and then the Seine valley was developed by the Greeks, although, as well shown in the book, it was much more precarious.
Yet another interesting feature is the descriptions of the various non-Greek and non-Punic populations included in this book: the Illyrians, the Iberians, the Vascons (ancestors of the modern Basques), the sailing Venetae that initially caused so much trouble for Caesar over four hundred years later, but also the Bretons from Dumnonia and the Senons and the Aedui from actual Burgundy. Here, of course, some readers (including myself) might want to quibble and howl about anachronisms for the terms used are the Latin ones, at a time when, as Christian Cameron reminds us of in the book, Ostia was a little village and Rome a little town. They are, however, the only names we happen to have. We do not know what the Carthaginians and other Punics might have called them, since we have almost no written sources from them. Neither do we have specific tribe names coming from Greek sources. Apart from this, there are a few other minor points. The excellent Gallic wine coming from the region around actual Bordeaux or the rock jutting out and joined to the land at low tide but surrounded by water at high tide (Mont Saint Michel) are just two examples. Another is the use of barrels made of wood, which was genuinely a Celtic invention, although vines do not seem to have been cultivated in Gaul at the time. They were brought over by the Roman colonists well after this book's story and wine was in fact one of the main exports to Gaul, along with pottery and vases. Gallic nobles spent fortunes on imported wines, and paid for them in gold (there were gold mines in the Massif Central, for instance) and silver.
One last point is that while this book is both surprising and original, it does have, contrary to what another reviewer seemed to mention, its fair share of fights and battles and boarding actions. However, these are essentially small actions, ambushes, raids and other surprise attacks conducted by Arimnestos and his sea raiders against outposts, small towns and settlements, and other ships at sea, but all of them are just as well told and exciting as any tale of the battle of Marathon. As the author clearly shows, piracy was very common at the time. It has being going on for centuries and continued for many more centuries, at least up to the end of the Roman Republic. Also, the ship descriptions are very good. They show, in particular, that there were numerous types of triremes and that these were not yet the most common and standing warship, although they were replacing the triakonters and pentakonters that seem to have been in use at least since the Trojan war.
Despite a few minor glitches - I got a bit confused with the wind directions at some point of the story, but then I am no sailor, and it seems that Aristophanes, which is referred to in the book, lived a couple of generations latter - this book is for me the best so far in the series, possibly because I found it both surprising and original. Taking one star for a handful of glitches would have been a bit excessive, so, despite hesitating a bit, I went for five stars this time.
Finally, for those wanting to read a bit more, I can recommend the following:
- Two relatively recent and superb books on, respectively, the Athenian Navy ("Lords of the Sea", by John R. Hale) and Carthage, its Empire and its civilization ("Carthage must be destroyed", by Richard Miles
- There are also two older books which both remain among the very best in their respective fields: Peter Green's "Greco-Persian Wars", which will also be useful for the next volumes on Arimnestos, and the Age of the Galley (editor Robert Gardiner) for those with a particular interest in warfare under oars in the Mediterranean.
on 17 February 2014
Christian Cameron, - American author living now in Canada. I've read several of his other novels , and they are all very well-written, full of interesting snippets of information, & speculation. His characters are well-drawn, and engaging. If Greek & Roman history is of interest to you, you will really enjoy this series. I just hate getting to the end of each book.