Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: Spartan by Valerio Massimo Manfredi

Title: Spartan
Author: Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Washington Square
Published: 2007
Pages: 314

Rating: 2 out of 10

In Ancient Sparta, twin boys are born into a powerful family. One is strong and healthy, but the other has been struck with the most terrible malady a Spartan can have - he is crippled, which means he will never be able to fight a battle. Thus, he is abandoned in the mountains and left to die. The baby, Talos, is found by a Helot shepherd and raised ignorant of his identity, while his brother Brithos is raised as a warrior. Eventually, Talos participates in the Battle of Thermopylae.

I have to say, I didn't like anything about this book and was glad to finish it. Despite all the action and battles, I felt bored.

Perhaps in the original Italian, this book was better, but the writing style seemed stiff and removed. Conversation was stilted and awkward, besides the characters employing a lot of modern words mixed in with old fashioned ones.

The entire premise of the story seemed unlikely and not at all believable. Talos just so happens to be abandoned and found by a Helot, who also happens to be an ancient, revered former warrior. Then, Talos happens to become involved with his twin brother without knowing that they are related. And yes, Talos is a cripple, but that doesn't stop him from becoming a mighty, legendary warrior.
It all sounds perfect for a story - but never once did I believe any of it, which I always view as a very negative thing in books.
The way that Manfredi presented everything only made me roll my eyes at how very unlikely it was.

Talos is obviously supposed to be someone special, a sort of prodigy, someone different and unbelievably talented, and the author is forever singing his praises. At one point, Talos is described as "like no other man on earth." Personally, I could never see where all of this reverence came from. I couldn't bring myself to like Talos - he was stupid and self-important.
Another character, his brother Brithos, was made into the literal "evil twin" (*snicker*), and Manfredi floods us with information about just how "bad" Brithos is in comparison to angelic Talos. With every scene Brithos is featured, he does something dramatically villainous. It struck me as a shortcut for the author - he wanted a bad guy but couldn't be bothered with building any sort of character for him.
So why not have the guy dabble in rape, murder, and other such cruelties the moment he's introduced?

*spoilers in this paragraph* Manfredi also seems very fond of killing off major characters. Throughout the book, there is always Talos as the main character, along with another very present major character. At first, it is his Helot guardian, Kritolaos. Later it is his brother Brithos, later another soldier that he befriends.
And very, suspiciously neatly, they are all killed just in time for the next one to come along. I especially saw Brithos' death as a bad decision, and it was pretty early in the book. He seemed such a big part of the plot, I didn't see how it made sense to have him die.
Then again, I suppose that he had already done all he could - he marched in being bad, soon afterward Talos finds out that his worst enemy is also his brother, they kind of make up and work out their differences, the end.
Except, this happened in only the first third of the book.

The whole thing was very messy, and the above is a perfect example of the author's lack of a strong plot, complete lack of strong characters, and knack for bad timing.

I will not be looking for any more of the author's work.