Reviewed by David Maclaine
If you know ancient history, the title Salamis tells it all. Cameron's Long War series is approaching its end; as this fifth installment begins, the same is true of Athens and Plataea. Plataea is the hometown of the protagonist and narrator Arimnestos, whose skill in hand-to-hand combat cannot stem the triumphant Persian forces who have forced the pass of Thermopylae and now flood into Greece. Thebes has already switched allegiance, and the fleet that gathers across the straits from the port of Piraeus on the island of Salamis must share the beaches with refugees who have evacuated their doomed cities.
While Arimnestos embarks on a mission to save his friends and family on the mainland, the leadership of the shaky anti-Persian coalition seems as fractured as ever. Corinth is again determined to retreat to the Isthmus, but the Athenians, led by the wily and manipulative Themistocles, see salvation in another fight at sea. Despite Persian losses, the enemy fleet seems far too large to tackle with any real hope of victory. Meanwhile Arimnestos frets at news that the love of his life, across the sea in Ephesus, faces deadly peril just when she is finally ready to spend her life with him.
Although Cameron fills in a host of fictional details, the astounding events at the center of the novel are lifted faithfully from history. The fate of nations hinges on a nighttime mission to the enemy, an offer of betrayal that might be either treason or a diabolically cunning ploy. Then comes the great day when the future of Western Civilization hangs on the skill and courage of the commanders, helmsmen, marines and oarsmen who launch their ships to fight despite apparently hopeless odds. No battle ever fought mattered more, and those who value the gifts the Greek world bequeathed us - including philosophy, drama, and democracy - will be hard-pressed to keep a dry eye during this close-up look at the courage and sacrifice that made that legacy possible. (2015, 313 pages)More about Salamis at Powell's Books or Amazon.com