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CPB Book of the Year Silver Medal 2018

Book Review:
Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze

Coffee Pot Book Club, Nov 2018

Genre: Historical Fiction
Title: Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze
Author: Thomas Berry

War brings a great opportunity for some and death for others.

The year is 432BC and as the spectators gather to honour the gods and to witness the might and grace of the Olympic Games, the threat of war continues to rumble. For Kallipateira, her only concern is for her son, Peisirodos. She has trained him well, but only time will tell if he will follow in his ancestors' footsteps and win the coveted Olympic laurel.

For Brasidas, a heroic Spartan general, this coming war will be a test of not only his leadership but also his cunning. The Spartans are a force to be reckoned with on land but on sea it is the Athenians who rule the waves.

Matthaios needs no war to tell him what suffering is. He is a helot slave. His life does not belong to him, it never had. But when fate comes knocking with the whispered promise of liberty, he would be a fool not to at least try to win his freedom, no matter how forlorn that hope may be.

Evania is a woman who longs for adventure and an end to the monotonous life she now leads. While the Spartans lay siege to her home city of Plataea, Evania has never felt so free, or so needed.

From the slaughter of the Spartan army at the Battle of Thermopylae to the fragile truce between the Spartans and the Athenians after a long 27 year war, Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze By Thomas J. Berry is the remarkable story of five people whose lives are interwoven and changed by the terror that became known as the Peloponnesian War.

From the opening chapter, I was left in no doubt that Berry is a vivacious storyteller. He writes with both elegance and authority. I lost myself in this spell-binding epic retelling of the events that led up to the Peloponnesian War and the war itself. This remarkable book captures both sides of the battle-lines.

Berry's lucid historical insight gave this book authenticity, and the fast-paced narrative kept me turning those pages. Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze is an example of historical fiction at its very best. Filled with memorable characters, adventure, war, love, hate, retribution, and forgiveness, there is certainly something for everyone within this book's pages.

The battle scenes were skilfully done. As a reader, I experienced the anticipation, the fear, the horror as well as the exhaustion of those involved. The realities of what a soldier's life was like was not brushed over with fancy prose. It was gritty and harsh. In other words, it was very real in the telling.

This book explores both the darkness and the lighter side of human nature. There are vile deeds but also brave endeavours. The plight of the helots was profoundly moving. Matthaios was a character that I was rooting for. I so wanted him to be free of his shackles and the fear that the helots lived in every day. The hunting of the helots, as if they were deer, by the Spartans was particularly terrible. I am not going to give away the plot, but there is another incident that left me reeling. Moreover, I found myself asking how someone could be so cruel to a fellow human being? However, this is a different time, and to the Spartans, the lives of the helots were of little consequence. Their lives were as insignificant as the lamb's as it is led to slaughter.

I adored the characterisation of Evania. Her life is one tragedy after another and I shed a few tears for her. Like all the other characters in this book, Evania was well drawn and so believable.

The drawing of Pericles was particularly well done, as was the terrible plague that ransacked Athens. Berry has to be commended for the amount of research he has done to bring this ancient world back to life. The story is vast and yet utterly dazzling. Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze is a historical triumphant.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Title: Gifts of the Gods: Iron and Bronze
Author: Thomas J. Berry
ISBN: 978-1644383063
Pages: 450
Price: $21.95 US
Oct 2018

Iron and Bronze