Review by Tomah -- The Fox by M. N. J. Butler

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Tomah
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Review by Tomah -- The Fox by M. N. J. Butler

Post by Tomah » 13 Jul 2019, 19:32

[Following is a volunteer review of "The Fox" by M. N. J. Butler.]
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1 out of 4 stars
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The Fox is a historical fiction novel written by M. N. J. Butler. Set in the classical era, most of the story is told through the recollections of Leotychides, an old Spartan man. The protagonist decides to write down his account of the historical events he witnessed at the request of Philippos, king of Macedonia. He reflects on his own personal struggles as heir to the throne as well as major events that would change Sparta forever.

The author, born in Kenya and educated in Ireland, has studied classics and ancient history in the course of his life, which definitely shows in the novel. The characters and locations are written authentically, and the story's events follow a careful timeline based on historical accounts. Nothing feels anachronistic or out of place. For example, there is scarce information on the real Leotychides, but his fictional life is fully consistent with historical events.

Sadly, extensive knowledge brings a downside: the novel assumes familiarity with all kinds of facts and trivia, often overindulging in historical references. In one scene, a character mentions Aristogoras out of nowhere ("What a stupid man Aristogoras was"), following up with: "Foreigners think the Council declined his proposal to take Persia, because they feared a three-month march. Even I once thought that the meaning was that riches are not worth a day's march, let alone three months." Who is Aristogoras? What exactly was his proposal? None of this is explained, so the reader has to do research on their own to find out that Aristogoras was an Ionian leader plotting a revolt against Persia.

The book does include a helpful glossary with relevant names and terms, but it's far from enough. The glossary misses things that could leave readers confused, like the aforementioned Aristogoras. Besides, the story should stand on its own instead of forcing the reader to go back and forth from a glossary. What makes matters worse is how dense the novel is: we're introduced to about twenty characters in the first fifteen pages alone. Moreover, these aren't straightforward character introductions, as they're interspersed with the narrator's endless comments and digressions.

As for the story itself, I enjoyed how the author captured the intricacies of wars and politics in the ancient world. For example, there's much emphasis on oracles, omens, and the will of gods; indeed, political and military decisions back then were heavily influenced by religious beliefs. That said, I couldn't help feeling that Leotychides was a terrible choice for the protagonist role. He's uninvolved in several significant events, so we only know about them from hearsay. His point of view is so limited we barely even see Lysander and Agisilaos, the main antagonists and hugely influential figures.

Leotychides' hugest flaw as a character is by far his impassivity. Acting as the stereotypical Spartan man, he is stoic, loyal to tradition, and a soldier who fulfills his duty without question. He remains unmoved while other characters do actually interesting things. His personality might make him admirable, but it also makes him boring. At the very least, the novel would benefit from the points of view of different people.

The other characters don't fare better, mostly because there are far too many of them for the reader to be invested in anyone in particular. Ironically, the most interesting characters act the least like Spartans: Antalkidas, Timaia, and Lysander. These are calculating and ambitious people who move at their own pace without shackles of the past, unlike the protagonist. These words from Antalkidas are a nice summary of the man and the reason he is my favorite character: "Had I been I born Athenian, I would fight for empire. Had I been Theban, I'd raid cattle. I am Spartiate. I act within the customs of my city, but I am still the same man I would be wherever I was born."

The book needs extensive editing. There are dozens of spelling, typographical, and formatting issues: missing or extraneous punctuation, misspelled names, blank pages, and misaligned paragraphs are just the most common problems. I found nine mistakes in the first chapter alone. Furthermore, there's no spacing between paragraphs aside from scene transitions, making the reading experience even more frustrating and tiresome.

I regret rating The Fox 1 out of 4 stars. It's an exhausting read that demands careful note-taking, extensive glossary consultation, and extra research for anyone who isn't very familiar with Ancient Greece. The book paints a splendid picture of the classical era that could appeal to history buffs, but the poor editing prevents me from rating it any higher. Since there are a few instances of crude language, non-explicit sex scenes, mild violence, and mature themes like adultery, the novel should be suitable for older teens. That said, the reader might be better off reading a history book instead.

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InStoree
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Post by InStoree » 15 Jul 2019, 06:22

It looks more like an in-depth book that could be used in a history classroom where the main subject would be Sparta. And as for homework - Aristogoras. I do enjoy historical fiction, but this work will probably exhaust me. Thank you for taking the time to read it and share your opinion. I know how frustrating this could be when, in the end, you remain with only 1 star in your hand.
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Post by Prisallen » 15 Jul 2019, 11:09

It definitely sounds as though this story needs some work done on it; therefore, I think I'm going to pass on reading it for now. Thanks for a wonderful review!

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Post by Tomah » 15 Jul 2019, 19:41

InStoree wrote:
15 Jul 2019, 06:22
It looks more like an in-depth book that could be used in a history classroom where the main subject would be Sparta. And as for homework - Aristogoras. I do enjoy historical fiction, but this work will probably exhaust me. Thank you for taking the time to read it and share your opinion. I know how frustrating this could be when, in the end, you remain with only 1 star in your hand.
Prisallen wrote:
15 Jul 2019, 11:09
It definitely sounds as though this story needs some work done on it; therefore, I think I'm going to pass on reading it for now. Thanks for a wonderful review!
Thanks for the comments! Yes, I can actually see this novel working well as classroom material. At the very least, it's excellent training for the students' research abilities!

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Post by juliusotieno02 » 16 Jul 2019, 03:27

It's a pity that you didn't find this book enjoyable. I expected more from this author. I dislike books with multiple confusing characters, so I'll pass this one. Thanks for the review
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Post by ReyvrexQuestor Reyes » 16 Jul 2019, 09:53

I saw this book, and so thick it really was. Nevertheless, you seemed to have pulled it through, the comprehensive review you made. I agree with you that with books aspiring to be historically consistent, much data must be culled from recorded history itself, no matter how some of the accounts tended to be no more than anecdotal. And the struggles in Greek epics, usually made by the protagonists, are always tied up with oracles, augurs, and even with the wrath of the gods vented on mortal wrongdoers. I have yet to read the book, albeit daunted by its length. Great review.
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Post by Bluebird03 » 16 Jul 2019, 19:24

I enjoy books that have a glossary for the occasional reference- not as required reading. Your rating was very well explained. Thank you for a very thorough and honest review!

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Post by Shrabastee » 19 Jul 2019, 06:07

Wow! Your review is very honest and upfront about the positive and negative aspects! I would say the premise is good, and the fact that is was well-researched also goes in its favor. However,over-detailing is something which I am not comfortable with, so maybe I should skip this one. Thanks for the review!

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Post by CommMayo » 23 Jul 2019, 13:50

Your review agrees with so many of the other reviews I have read for this book. Unless you are a lover of Ancient Greece, it is too much to bite off as a casual reader. Thank you for your candid review.

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Post by Kibetious » 31 Jul 2019, 08:10

I read the title and anticipated a lot from the book, but I am saddened that the author was not able to deliver much. Thanks a lot for the insightful review.
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