Review: The Spartan by Don Harrison

Pantarkes’ goal is to enter the Olympics and win the laurel crown. But at the age of 16, after accidentally killing the son of a high official, Pantarkes is forced to flee from his native home in Sparta. For two years his Olympic dreams are postponed as he becomes embroiled in the wars and turmoil of the time. This brisk paced novel gives a vivid picture of classical Greece and the early Olympics, and of an era when gay relationships were a common and valued part of life.

Review by Erastes

As an adventure story it falls down, a little, although beginning promisingly, and I found myself thinking that at times it felt like a YA novel, which is not at all a bad thing. There are some sexual encounters but I’m sure it’s not too explicit for gay teenagers!

The pairing off ceremonies for Erastes and eromenos were particularly interesting and at time, amusing, as were the explanations of training for the various sporting events.

The blurb calls it “fast paced” and it certainly is. We are whizzed from Sparta to Thebes (with no description of the (probably) hard journey to get there – to Delphi and back to Sparta at breathless pace. There are few moments where the book takes a breather and I would have liked a few more spots where Pantarkes describes the life of the time, rather than just the wrestling and the games.

I’m no expert on the era at all, but for a layman, it certainly seemed to be well researched. Original names are interspersed throughout, but never in the manner where you have to rush to the computer to look up what a helot, porna or hetaira is. You learn them in context, or they are explained without jolting the reader from the story.

There are in keeping illustrations throughout, at the beginning of each chapter but would have made a valuable addition was a map of the Hellenic world as it was at the time, as there is so much travel, and interaction with many peoples of that world, it would have clarified a lot.

Published in 1982 by Alyson Books, The Spartan is not easy to get hold of, as it’s only available from second hand sellers. However, with a bit of searching you can find a reasonably priced copy and if you are interested in the era, and more importantly the history of the ancient games, it’s an interesting read, if a little youthful.

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5 Responses

  1. Ooohh, lovely. Youthful, ya say? That’s perfect for my blog. 🙂

  2. I think you’d like it, it’s not perfect but it’s certainly quite YA-ish, even with the (not explicit) sex scenes. It’s also interesting from an Erastes/eromenos pov.

  3. No prob. It’s really difficult finding historical titles with a YA-ish angle. All of the ones I’ve reviewed are adult fiction with coming-of-age themes, which is good enough for what I need.

    Still no signs of strictly YA stuff in the historical genre, though. 😦

  4. I’m reading the book now, googled it, and like your analysis, but anything else to add on the author? Did he write any other novels?

    Otherwise, I think you summed up the book’s deficiencies quite well, though on the whole I’m enjoying it.

  5. Thanks Tom! That’s a very good idea to add a section to reviews discussing the author and his/her other works. I’ll instigate that from now on!

    Thanks again

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