eARC provided by the publisher in exchange for fair review
The slaughter of the Spartan Three Hundred at Thermopylae, Greece 480 BCE—when King Leonidas tried to stop the Persian army with only his elite guard—is well known. But just what did King Xerxes do after he defeated the Greeks?
Fifteen-year-old Thaleia is haunted by visions: roofs dripping blood, Athens burning. She tries to convince her best friend and all the villagers that she’s not crazy. The gods do speak to her.
And the gods have plans for this girl.
When Xerxes’ army of a million Persians marches straight to the mountain village Delphi to claim the Temple of Apollo’s treasures and sacred power, Thaleia’s gift may be her people’s last line of defense.
Her destiny may be to save Greece…but is one girl strong enough to stop an entire army?
That doesn’t count as a review, does it? I mean, it should because it more or less sums up how I feel and is a no-so-subtle hint as to what the final outcome of this review will be. But it’d make me a bad reviewer if I simply left it there, and if nothing else, I want to say I did my best, so let’s take a look a look at this further.
On the plus side, I love the setting and concept: while Greek deities occasionally appear in modern books that touch on old pantheons, you simply don’t see much fiction (let alone fantasy) set in this era. It’s also neat to see some of the rituals of the time and the author clearly did her homework. It feels authentic.
But that’s about all I can say that is genuinely positive.
First and foremost, while I do applaud the research that clearly went into this, the book seems so eager to show off that the author did her homework that it feels like a cross being a fantasy and a bit of a history lesson. Characters speak lines like
“He will never conquer us! Representatives of each city-state – from Athens, Milas, even might Sparta came together last autumn in Corinth to form the Hellenic League!” and “Xerxes’ empire is vast – Asia Minor, Egypt, Judah, Lydia, Mesopotaia!”
People don’t talk like that and so it doesn’t sound like dialogue, but instead it sounds like recitation of fact. Adding to this sense is that there is an entire glossary in the back of the book. While that can be handy, what’s not so handy is that each word in the glossary is both italicized and underlined. It breaks immersion and is cumbersome to use, and ultimately detracts from the experience, more than enhances. It’s nice to have the reference, but it doesn’t need to be so front and center.
My next complaint is that the book feels cold. I really, really wish Strickland had given us more time with Thaleia before she had her first meeting with Pan. Our introduction to her is basically a girl that feels ridiculously modern with her “girls can be more than wives and mothers/we’re just property of men!” spiel and then the mystical aspects of the book take over. Ultimately, I never connected with Thaleia because she never felt real, never felt human and Strickland went to great lengths to point out that she was human, and not semi-divine. She is the heart of the story, both in terms of plot and emotion, so having some more closeness to her would have done wonders for me.
Finally, this book has less an ending, and more a cliff-hanger. She has another vision and then boom, you’re looking at the tease for book two. It is an ever-present annoyance of mine, especially in books this short.
Overall, the word I’d use for this is disappointing. There was a lot of promise, but it never quite came together for me. It is definitely fantasy, and it’s interesting positing what powers a Pythia might have been able to have, but to give her powers and have her help save Greece before we even know her is to put her a bit on a pedestal and readers should never be kept at such distance.
Verdict: Skip It