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CPB Book of the Year Silver Medal 2019

Book Review:
Gifts of the Gods: Silver and Gold

Coffee Pot Book Club, Sep 2019

Genre: Historical Fiction
Title: Gifts of the Gods: Silver and Gold
Author: Thomas Berry

War brings a great opportunity for some - death for others. "I have had frequent dreams of late, dreams of danger and ruins for Athens..."

But what did Socrates know?

The Peace of Nicias had brought an end to the bloodshed - and the war. But until Sparta has surrendered Amphipolis to Athens, as was agreed, then why should the Athenians relinquish Pylos? One could almost argue, "How can there be peace when the terms of the treaty have not been fulfilled?"

Peace isn't what Athenian politician, Alcibiades, wants anyway. He wants glory and honour and above everything else, wealth. The only thing that could pose a problem to his plans is the Spartans and fellow politician, Nicias. So when the opportunity comes, Alcibiades uses his cunning to pick a fight with the Spartans and provoke a war.

War with Athens seems inevitable. However, Sparta is a land of warriors. They will face this new threat with courage, and they will be victorious. They have to be.

Socrates' warning has, unfortunately, come too late. The Athenians had come too far. Alcibiades would not, he could not, stop what he had put into motion. The Athenian fleet would sail. Alcibiades was not leading his people to destruction and ruin. Socrates was wrong- he had to be. The armada would not burn - how could it? Alcibiades was not leading his men to their deaths. He was leading them to glory and riches. To a land of silver and gold...

From the festival of Pyanepsion in Sicily to the utter defeat of the Athenian army under Nicias during the Siege of Syracuse, Gift of the Gods: Silver and Gold by Thomas J. Berry is in all ways a Historical Fiction triumph.

Told from the viewpoint of five very different people from opposing sides, Gift of the Gods: Silver and Gold is as rich and as potent as the wine once served in the dive bars in Syracuse, Sicily. This is a story that is not only tense, powerful and compulsive in the telling, but one that is also profoundly moving.

Nothing is beyond the telling, and Berry's attention to the historical detailing is as staggering as it is accurate. Berry has brought this time and this place back to life in his crystalline prose and his compelling narrative. But, this book is not for the faint-hearted. Berry does not gloss over the history, nor does he gloss over the reality of the battles and the appalling treatment and torture of the prisoners. This book is a realistic retelling of this period of history.

The political landscape has been carefully documented and brought back to life in the raucous Assembly. The duplicitous Alcibiades was masterfully portrayed. He gets what he wants through cunning and tricks, and if he can embarrass Nicias at the same time, then so much the better. Likewise, I thought Berry had a lucid understanding of General Nicias, and his struggle to curb Alcibiades' ambitions. Nicias comes across as a shrewd politician, a man who seeks to keep the peace - he would rather work with Sparta than against her. But, Alcibiades is a formidable opponent, and Nicias can do nothing but watch as his beloved Athens is propelled towards another war. The consequences of which, as history will tell us, was disastrous for both Athens and Nicias. It is certainly a fascinating time in history, and Berry has really outdone himself in his portrayal of both of these very charismatic men.

Of course, in times of political unrest, such things spill over into everyday life, and Berry demonstrates this fabulously with the exclusion of the Spartans in the 420 Olympic Games. Berry is one of those authors that has an intuitive understanding of the power of words and how they fit together, which may sound a little strange, but it is true. He is a master at his craft. Berry's writing is as effortless to read as watching a Wolfgang Petersen's Troy, and it is just as rewarding. This skill is clearly demonstrated when Berry brings back to life the excitement, the danger, and the thrill of chariot racing at the Olympics. I could feel and see the enthusiasm of the crowd, the nervous agitation of the horses, and the determination of the competitors. Brilliantly written and wholly unforgettable. I could talk about how fabulously written that chariot race scene was all day, which I think says it all.

Another character that I must not forget to mention was Andreas. He has lived in the shadow of his brother for too long, and now that his brother is dead Andreas has the chance to prove himself. Through Andreas, Berry has allowed us a glimpse as to what life as a Spartan soldier was like. I thought it was a wonderfully compelling representation. Brilliant.

There are several other characters in this book, Cathryn being one of them, who gave a different perspective to the story. All the characters are wonderfully depicted, and they all helped to drive the story forward.

I am not jesting when I say there is enough adrenaline in this book to keep you reading all night. It is one of those books that you simply cannot put down. Fans of battle heavy historical fiction will fall in love with this book. There is no doubt in my mind that Thomas Berry has written a masterpiece.

I Highly Recommend.

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

Title: Gifts of the Gods: Silver and Gold
Author: Thomas J. Berry
ISBN: 978-1-64438-306-3
Pages: 462
Price: $20.95 US
Sep. 2019

Silver and Gold