I’m a sucker for stories set in the ancient world—that’s obvious. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to jump up and down every time I read one. (Steven Saylor’s work? Pretty much guaranteed to induce said jumping. But I digress.)
Books that I find exciting have me relating to the main character’s emotional struggles while, at the same time, marveling at the strangeness or “otherness” of the character’s world. In other words, I like ricocheting between recognizing our commonality (as in, “Geez, we humans never change, do we?”) to gasping at how very differently the ancients thought or acted (as in, “Seriously, a man could legally marry corpse???”).
Gary Corby’s THE PERICLES COMMISSION manages that balance of recognition and wonder perfectly. It’s a twisty “who-dunnit” set during one of the most fascinating periods of ancient history—the start of democracy in Athens. That setting alone makes it worth reading. Who could resist a young Pericles or an even younger Socrates?
Corby’s wit and talent for comedy move the story along, even as the mystery deepens. I don’t want to say much more because I hate reviews that recount the actual story (I’d rather read the book, thanks). I will say, though, that I’m very excited about the fact that Nicolaos is fairly young in this first novel. Why? Because it means that if it does turn into a longstanding series, I will be able to watch the flowering of that crazy experiment known as democracy in Athens through the eyes of a very appealing, funny, naïve, and principled young Athenian.
Like Gordianus the Finder (Saylors’ hero), I hope to be reading about Nicolaos’ adventures for a long, long time.