Sunday, November 30, 2003

Book Review - The Ten Thousand by Michael Curtis Ford

My knowledge of Greek History is pretty sketchy but I'm a sucker for any sort of historical fiction (I'm drooling at the thought of Robert Harris' latest offering on ancient Pompei). The Ten Thousand is set in the chaos that followed the Pelopennesian war in the 5th Century BC. With the war over, there are lots of bored soldiers sitting around with nothing much to do until the Persian Prince Cyrus starts recruiting Greece's finest to do his dirty work for him.

A large mercenary army sets out from Greece and it eventually emerges that Cyrus is attempting to usurp the throne. At Cunaxa, near Babylon, battle ensues and Cyrus is killed. In the subsequent peace negotiations Cyrus' army is betrayed and most of the senior officers killed. Ten thousand Greeksoldiers now find themselves trapped far from home in hostile territory facing an army 10 times their size. Into the breach steps the brave Athenian Xenophon who now has the task of bringing his army home.

The story traces their 10 month journey north as they flee to the safety of the Black Sea struggling against raids by Persian forces and hostile tribes, infighting within their army, starvation, disease and the worst the elements can throw at them.

The story is based on Xenophon's own account of events, the Anabasis, which I would probably find quite daunting reading - from that perspective the author has done well to make an interesting historical tale much more accessable to the average reader and he sets the scene very well giving a good insight into ancient Greece.

Unfortunately the author never quite manages to get the reader emotionally involved in the story or with the characters (with the possible exception of the part where they are reduced to chewing on the marinated sphincter muscles of sheep for sustinance) and the attempt to add a love interest into the story never really works. By the end of the story this reader felt quite flat. Rating 6.5/10