The Great King

by Christian Cameron

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Although The Great King, fourth in the Long War series, begins off the north coast of Africa and almost immediately takes a quick trip to Carthage, the alert reader knows from the maps in the front of the book that the tale will range far to the other end of the known world, to the palace of the titular king Xerxes in Susa. That journey is a consequence of an eventful visit to the Olympic games, a scene of furious plots and diplomacy because the storm clouds are gathering for another episode in the Long War with Persia, and the task of uniting the quarrelsome Greeks seems almost impossible. For our hero, the Plataean bronze-smith, warrior and sometime pirate Arimnestos, there will be crucial revelations on the road to Susa, and perils aplenty on the return trip, but we know the climax of his tale is yet to come. While Leonidas and company hold the Hot Gates on land, another Spartan general named Eurybiades must hold together a fractious Greek fleet, where old rivalries, divergent priorities, and perhaps even treason threaten the Hellenic resistance to the Persian onslaught. Before this riveting yarn is through, our hero will take part in a great sea battle, pitting the newly created war fleet of the mainland Greeks against a larger force including not only the skilled sailors of Phoenicia and Egypt, but also fellow Greeks who now serve the great king.

A "Who's Who" of famous figures from history and literature throng the pages of this engrossing novel. They include the two great Athenian rivals, Themistocles and Aristides the Just, the Spartan king Leonidas and his fascinating wife Gorgo, Miltiades' capable son Cimon, a playwright/soldier named Aeschylus, and a couple of annoyingly confident teenaged friends: Aristagoras and Pericles. In The Great King Cameron's mastery of the arms and equipment of the classical age is matched by his sharp-eyed depiction of the conventions of Greek society as they play out in the relationships between these richly portrayed characters. (2013, 400 pages)

More about The Great King at Powell's Books or

Other novels in which Xerxes appears:

The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate by L. Sprague de Camp (1961), about a soldier in Xerxes' elite guard sent on a quest for ingredients for a potion of immortality. More info

Creation by Gore Vidal (1981), about a Persian ambassador to Athens and his travels through the ancient world, echoing those of Herodotus. More info

A Victor of Salamis by William Stearns Davis (1907), about the Greeks who defended their homeland from the Persian invasion. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Nonfiction about the wars between Greece and Persia:

Xerxes Invades Greece by Herodotus (5th century B.C.). More info

Xerxes: A Persian Life by Richard Stoneman (2015). More info

Rise of an Empire: How One Man United Greece to Defeat Xerxes' Persians by Stephen Dando-Collins (2013). More info


Xerxes at the Iran Chamber website

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