An eclectic, bold, and adventurous reader, Soz, has reviewed Sword of Marathon on Amazon.co.uk:
I was looking to try something a bit different to my usual reading genre, so I thought I would give this book a try – by page 5, I was hooked!
The story is a really great romp – following the fortunes of the leading characters, Luke and his younger brother Hal. Somewhat by accident, they find themselves travelling to the political heartland of Greece. The journey proves dangerous and educational and there are understandable amounts of blood and gore along the way. What I particularly enjoyed though, was the transformation of these two from adolescents to young men. Whilst Hal maintains a steadfast gung-ho approach to everything, Luke matures into a true hero inspired by the various colourful characters he meets.
Eventually, Luke and Hal find themselves embroiled in the battle at Marathon. The ‘histories’ of Herodotus were the basis for this account, and it’s done very well. There are several nasty deaths (some, if I’m honest, a little too graphic for my taste!) and ingenious military manoeuvres.
As far as my limited knowledge of ancient history goes, it seems pretty accurate in its general setting. The English is rich and there are good layers of complexity. Full of war, history, violence and sex, I think this book will appeal mainly to male readers, however, I’m not a bloke and I can say one hundred percent that I loved it! I understand that a sequel is planned and I will eagerly await its’ release. Can’t help thinking this book would make a great film or mini-series.
As Stephen King relates in his book, On Writing, the unconscious mind often throws up the most graphic, rude, or unpleasant images and feelings. However, if a writer is to be true to himself or herself, they must transcribe these scenes to the reader, especially if they are essential to the story, otherwise the novel stops being ‘true’ and something is lost. However, thank you Soz for persevering through some of these gruesome bits and for writing this review.
A literary and well-informed reader, Catmandoo, has reviewed Sword of Marathon on Amazon.co.uk:
Our two young Gothic heroes, Luke, a prince, and younger brother Hal, are ably supported (or thwarted, depending on your point of view) in their quest to secure vital trade routes, by a cast of equally believable and cunning seafarers, philosophers, soldiers, explorers, traitors and vagabonds. Let’s not forget the occasional Amazon either (tip: if you ever meet one at a party, best avoid, especially if you’re a bloke!).
Jack England serves up a brilliant mix of ancient history (as it should have been taught but never was), romance, bravery and rampant skulduggery, into a damn good yarn which makes for a great read – the style is informal, but achieves graphic, no-holds-barred, portrayals of the raw shock of combat and life during difficult and treacherous times. Watch your back….
He presents just enough historic tit-bits on the politics, economy, geography, seafaring, warmongering and survival during this volatile era, to paint his scenes all the more convincingly without overpowering the underlying story – nor forgetting that it is still just that – a ‘damn good yarn’.
Roll on the next instalment….
The first draft of the next instalment is currently progressing well, Catmandoo, perhaps a little slower than I’d hoped, as the Athenians are set on bickering with the Spartans. However, the gates of Thermopylae approach relentlessly.
A highly intelligent, charming, yet sensitive person called Roman has written the following review of Sword of Marathon, on Amazon.com:
This book was a lot of fun. It’s a tour through ancient history. What little I remember from school treated every ancient culture as separate from all the others.
Sword of Marathon has them all mixing and interacting and commenting on one another.
It’s a little violent for my delicate demeanour.
One suspects Roman was thinking of a certain scene between Hal and the Phoenician captain, when he wrote his review, but thank you Roman for making the effort to write a review.
Finally! Entertainment with Reality Economics! – Extended review of ‘Sword of Marathon’ by Radio Free Market host, Michael McKayPosted: September 22, 2012
Finally! Entertainment with Reality Economics!
You may be, like me, near the end of your rope with Movies, TV and “entertainment” that as a persistent basic premise show Capitalists as ‘Evil Doer’s’ rather than potential upholders of Righteousness, Peace and Prosperity.
Usually added to the common drek we’re exposed to are those wonderful Government Saviors who selflessly protect us mere CITIZEN-WEAKLINGS from all those Evil Doers out there.
Of course this plays well to the Socialist-Fear-Based-Crowd and all others who have so long ago swallowed the propaganda to move along and get along and whatever you do, don’t try to learn Reality Economics or Reality History.
Enter Jack England’s new (first!) novel “Sword of Marathon”.
Starting out in Ancient Northern Europe and then onward – in pure adventure style – to Ancient Greece and Persia, our young hero-brothers Luke (whose given name is Ludwig) and Hal start out as simple Amber traders and progress through clashes, trials, trysts and epic climatic battles learning how to be men and how to be – inspiringly – more human as well.
Some of you may have found libertarianism through an early reading of Ayn Rand or Robert Heinlein, like I did. These books focused on the individual-as-special and thus taught why we all, individually, deserve respect.
Some may have been more lucky and, against the odds, found Garret’s The Driver (here), Russell’s The Great Explosion (still hard to find), or – if you were supremely lucky – Henry Hazlitt’s Time Will Run Back (here and here). I recall this jewel from Hazlitt’s introduction to his book:
“capitalism is merely a name for freedom in the economic sphere”
This comment has been a compass for me ever since.
Some had the bejesus scared out of you by the dystopias of Orwell’s 1984, Rand’s Anthem or Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day.
None of you are ready for the delight you are about to find in England’s fresh approach to introducing Sanity and Reality into the conversation, amazingly even while presenting what in largest part, is a fantasy adventure novel.
With a delicate and confident hand England sneaks up on you and provides a first rate page blazing adventure novel that every so often pauses for a thoughtful sentence or two and shows us a deeper understanding of our world today as well as of ancient times.
– Regarding the lust for power that leads to tyranny:
“Once a man succumbs to the pressures of ordering others around the vice always grows stronger over time. This is unlike most other vices, which fade away with age.”
– Showing an accurate understanding of how State Power, Taxation and Militarism are intimately interlinked:
“[Emperors] need to suck in ever more wealth to keep the whole show moving. His armies and fleets consume silver and gold by the ton. Without the conquest of new territories, those unleashed forces would soon turn in and destroy him instead.”
– On the inevitability of the corruption of Democracy and on the mindless complicity of “voting”.
“The tyrant with the most freemen behind him wins the contest. They usually do this by promising to rob one group of voters on behalf of all the other groups of voters. Soon, everyone is being robbed by everyone else, with two similar-sized voting groups who end up taking turns to steal from each other, with their secretly co-operating leaders getting ever-richer in the process.”
Remember; I told you that England sneaks up on you with these and other fascinating tidbits, like how the Banks and Bankers back then were really the Temples and Trusted Priests.
Fascinating Tidbits like this only deepened the hook in me.
The way England writes is like a river that is ever increasing in speed, strength and cross currents until I, the swimmer, am trapped and I start missing sleep, being late for appointments and otherwise keep people (that I shouldn’t) waiting while I am entranced in his book.
I cannot wait to see this made into a Movie – something I can truly enjoy and not have to feign ignorance to get through.
Damn Good Read…and very welcome indeed.
You will love it.
Available on Amazon.com in print and for kindle:
This should be a movie! – ‘Sword of Marathon’ reviewed by Michael McKay, host of ‘Radio Free Market’Posted: September 21, 2012
Damn you Jack England!
A good friend of mine told me about your book, having just devoured it – so he said.
Well, your book devoured me instead. I always love a great adventure story but your book is so much more: it immersed me into Ancient Europe, Greece and Persia. I found it fascinating how dappled throughout it are historical tidbits of all sorts, like how the Banks and Bankers back then were really the Temples and Trusted Priests. Fascinating, and tidbits like this only deepened the hook in me.
The way England writes is like a river that is ever increasing in speed, strength and cross currents until I, the swimmer, am trapped and I start missing sleep, being late for appointments and otherwise keep people (that I shouldn’t) waiting while I am entranced in this book.
And then, at the end you, Mr. E, set it up so that now I cannot wait for your next book – or to see this on the big screen!
Damn You Jack England!
Mr McKay, if you are reading this, the first draft of ‘Book Beta’ is currently up to just over 65,000 words.
‘Sword of Marathon’ reviewed by Professor Gerard Casey, of the School of Philosophy, University College DublinPosted: September 16, 2012
A cracking good read!
Take two Northern barbarian princes and place them in 5th century BC Athens at the time when Darius of Persia is about to teach the pesky Athenians a lesson and you have yourself the makings of a good story. If you can write as well as Jack England can you have the makings of a terrific story.
After a series of adventures and misadventures, the Anglanders Luke and his brother Hal find themselves caught up in the Athenian resistance to the ambitions of the Persian Empire under its ruler Darius. The story starts at a quick pace with the capture, escape and journey southwards of our heroes and gets even quicker as they become involved in the Greek resistance. The climax of the book is the Battle of Marathon. The description of the military preparations for the battle is masterly and the description of the battle itself is gripping, conveying the strategic complexities, horror and thrill of the fight without ever losing sight of the fact that in the end it is real flesh and blood people who are the actors in the drama. It is particularly noteworthy that the villains of the piece are portrayed as real people and not comic-book caricatures.
Within the covers of an wonderfully exciting adventure story, England manages to make some points about matters of perennial interest to us all: about freedom (“The fight for freedom is every man’s fight, Luke, no matter where you were born”), the perennial temptation of tyranny (“Once a man succumbs to the pleasures of ordering others around, Hal, the vice always grows stronger over time. This is unlike most other vices, which fade away with age”), about the parasitic and self-destructive nature of empire (“He [the would-be emperor] needs to suck in ever more wealth to keep the whole show moving. His armies and fleets consume silver and gold by the ton. Without the conquest of new territories, those unleashed forces would soon turn in and destroy him instead”) and, in words, that have a distinctly contemporary ring, about the dangers of democracy in which (“Different aspiring tyrants buy power with votes, with each freeman choosing their favourite candidate for the position of caretaker-king. The tyrant with the most freemen behind him wins the contest. They usually do this by promising to rob one group of votes on behalf of all the other groups of voters. Soon, it all blends into one melting pot, and everyone is being robbed by everyone else, with two similar-sized voting groups who end up taking turns to steal from each other, with their secretly co-operating leaders getting ever-richer in the process”)
This is a novel however and not a treatise on political philosophy in fictional form. Athens, its leaders, its citizens, Luke, his comrades, his lovers–all are brought vividly to life. Life at sea, the sounds and the smells of the marketplace and the terror and exhilaration of battle come bursting through the prose.
If you enjoy this book as much as I did you’ll be glad to know that this is just the first of a series and that there is more to come. I, for one, can’t wait.
The hero of this novel is an Englishman of great intelligence and beauty who settles in Greece. He begins telling his story in extreme old age, and, though aged, nearly has to kill someone in the first chapter. Much of the novel takes place in Athens. However, anyone who thinks the author has been influenced by my own Ghosts of Athens will be mistaken.
Jack told me he was writing Sword of Marathon in May 2011, when we were both attending a conference in Bodrum. I had just finished Ghosts of Athens, though it would not be published until August 2012. By then, Jack had finished Sword of Marathon, and was working on a sequel. There is a similarity between our novels, but I do swear that neither of us could have had any influence on the other. This really is one of those times when great minds have thought alike.
The story begins when Luke and his brother Hal are on a trading mission and are captured by nomadic and more than usually demented barbarians. Through a series of exciting and well-paced adventures, they arrive in Athens in 490, just when Darius of Persia has finally decided to have his revenge on a city that has not only resisted his invitation to accept him as overlord, but has consistently made trouble along the western fringes of the greatest empire that has existed.
Embraced by the Athenians as one of their own, Luke plays a key part in the victorious defence of Greece against the first Persian assault, and ends the story covered in well-deserved glory.
Rather than explain in detail what I like about the novel, let me quote this passage from when Luke and Hal are taken prisoner by the barbarians:
The horsemen dismounted noisily at a large circular wicker hut, then pulled the two boys off their horse; they unroped Luke and Hal from each other, then bound each boy’s hands tightly behind his back, before pushing them into the hut.
A stench of rotting entrails filled the space, from an indeterminate set of slaughtered beasts. A wide circular pit, twelve feet across, with vertical sides, occupied most of the space inside the hut, with a post standing beside its lip, which had a long length of rope coiled around it.
Instead of using the rope, the Gerroians threw both boys into the pit together, where they fell and splashed into five feet of stinking water, twisting knees and ankles when their feet crashed into mud at the pit’s bottom. Luke could hear laughter and mutual back slaps amongst the men above. The group of horse-riding captors left the hut. From the floor of the pit, to the lip at the top, was at least ten feet above the surface of the water. This was an old well, thought Luke, but clearly not used for drinking water.
The last man out rattled shut the hut’s flimsy door, then the sound of happy men receded. Ordinary sounds of town life re-filled the hut through the wicker walls; chickens squawked, dogs barked, and domestic arguments all flowed in, along with the smells of cooked meat and wood smoke.
In the bottom of the pit the boys stood up and could feel hard objects in the putrid mud under their feet. Almost drowning himself, and at risk of dislocating his shoulders, Luke managed to bring his hands around to his front.
He delved into the stinking mud with his hands and brought to the surface a human skull. The top had been sliced off and there were the telltale signs of a heavy axe blow, to mark the remains of what was left. This pit involved death; that much was clear. (p.18)
The author has done with this passage exactly what a competent writer does. He clearly imagines a situation, even down to the sounds of normality beyond the confines of its horror. He does this through the perceptions of his hero, leaving nothing to objective description.
Or take this:
…Miltiades spat up in the face of Hippias. Thick stinking phlegm dribbled down the former tyrant’s lips and dripped onto his purple silks, though Hippias stayed motionless.
“So you thought you would walk into Athens again with the same fucking plan your demented father lucked into all those years ago,” said Miltiades. “Did you think we would forget, you arrogant piece of dog shit? Did you think we would run from these fucking Persian bastards and these cock-sucking Median cuts?”…
Miltiades punched Hippias in the face and knocked out several loose blackened teeth, which created a putrid cloud of rotten breath, as bits of partially-digested meat and gristle came out with them. The teeth flew overboard, in a blood-and-spittle rain, mostly into the brackish lagoon water, though one rotten tooth fell onto the exposed sandbar that had trapped the trireme….(p.230)
This brings me to a complaint that I often face from my own readers. Why is it necessary to have all this foul language and graphic descriptions of violence? The answer is because this is how people often speak, and this is what they often do. People also have sex in ways that seem less than decorous to observers, and they go to the toilet, and they drink too much and throw up. Describing all this will not save a broken plot, but it is something that has a place in any novel that tries to put the reader into a world filled with real men and women. As for the further complaint that the specific words used may be anachronistic, and may sound more like Ray Winstone than the men whose smooth, marble busts have come down to us from classical antiquity – well, the answer is obvious. The convention is that what the author writes is a good translation into English from the original Greek. It would never do to have a character say: “A light came on in my head,” or “The temperature was dropping fast.” These are phrases that could only be used in a technological civilisation. But anything else, no matter how vulgar, is fair game for an historical novelist.
Oh, and there is also this, from Jahiz, an Arab writer of the ninth century:
Some people who affect asceticism and self denial are uneasy and embarrassed when cunt, cock and fucking are mentioned. But most men you find like that are without knowledge, honour, nobility or dignity.
What more to say? Well, I could say that I am jealous of Jack’s choice of period. My choice of early Byzantium is a good one. Contrary to the general view, this was an age of heroism and genius. The fight the Byzantines put up against the barbarians and Persians and Moslems saved Western civilisation. There are few stories more inspiring than the defeat of the Arabs outside the very walls of Constantinople in 678 and 717. At the same time, nothing compares with what the Athenians achieved a thousand years earlier.
Forget the Egyptians and the Jews. Forget what we are told about the ancient Indians and Chinese. Forget even the Romans. Between about 600 and 300 BC, the Greeks of Athens and some of the cities of what is now the Turkish coast were easily the most remarkable people who ever lived. They gave us virtually all our philosophy, and the foundation of all our sciences. Their historians were the finest. Their poetry was second only to that of Homer – and it was they who put together all that we have of Homer. They gave us ideals of beauty, the fading of which has always been a warning sign of decadence; and they gave us the technical means of recording that beauty. They had no examples to imitate. They did everything entirely by themselves. In a world that had always been at the midnight point of barbarism and superstition, they went off like a flashbulb; and everything good in our own world is part of their afterglow. Every renaissance and enlightenment we have had since then has begun with a rediscovery of the ancient Greeks. Modern chauvinists may argue whether England or France or Germany has given more to the world. In truth, none of us is fit to kiss the dust on which the ancient Greeks walked.
This is the world that Luke and Hal do their bit to save. The Greeks had to win at Marathon. They had to win at Salamis and Plataia. Anything else would have condemned humanity to more of the same. Everything I was brought up to think had been achieved at Trafalgar or the Battle of Britain really was achieved in those three battles. It is the most inspiring story that can be told. You need to be a wretched novelist not to catch something of its universal importance. And Jack England is a very fine novelist. He does not denigrate the Persians – Datis is a most interesting and even sympathetic character. Nor, as shown, does he fail to recognise the brutality of the Greeks. At the same time, he knows which side he is on in the war for civilisation.
So buy this book. Buy many copies, and given them to your friends and loved ones. And let us hope that the next instalment in Luke’s mission to save the human race will not be long delayed.