3 out of 4 stars
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Countless people have wondered what it might have been like to be alive in ancient times, to walk the streets of Sparta, and to see for themselves the glory of the legendary warriors whose triumphs have filled unnumbered pages and imaginations. In The Fox, M.N.J. Butler allows readers to do just that. The novel follows the life of Leotychides, a young man who has a tenuous claim to the Spartan throne, as he navigates political upheaval in his beloved country as well as the hard life of a warrior. Readers will be eagerly turning the page to learn for themselves where fate will ultimately lead Leotychides. With everything from intrigue, romance, and war, The Fox is an intricate and sweeping historical fiction novel that is sure to captivate any fan of the genre.
One of the novel’s strongest points is its characterization. Butler does a phenomenal job of making every character distinct and memorable. Often, minor characters get lost in a detailed story like this one, but the author deftly avoids that problem. In Chapter One, for example, Leotychides says, “My mother was a fluent liar, who could be trusted to tell the bare truth when it was calculated to do the greatest harm.” In one sentence alone, Butler has successfully given readers a clear insight into his mother’s nature and a reason to anticipate how she might influence later events in the story. Butler gives nearly everyone in the book the same treatment, and it makes for a memorable cast of characters that continue to engage readers until the very last page.
Butler also creates beautiful descriptions that make Sparta come alive for readers. At one point, it says, “It was one of those late winter months, when the snow-covered mountains shield the Vale from the cruel north-east wind, and a brave sun deludes us that spring has come.” Some historical fiction novels read like dry history books, but that is certainly not the case in The Fox. Each description makes both Sparta and the other locations in the novel vivid and realistic for readers, keeping them engaged and invested in the story.
As a reader, I did find it difficult to follow the timeline of the novel. There are multiple time jumps of varying lengths throughout the story, and I wasn’t always aware of it until a specific detail, such as the age of Leotychides, alerted me to the change. At times, it felt jarring and confusing. I believe that by placing dates at the start of each chapter in which a time jump occurs, the author can remove any confusion. My only other concern is the number of errors. One example is in Chapter One on page 21, line 30. The author misspells the name “Agesipolis” as “Agespolis.” The spelling of this name is consistent throughout the rest of the novel; however, this early mistake is confusing for readers and, like the other errors, takes away from the book’s professional quality.
My rating for this book is 3 out of 4 stars. The Fox is overflowing with compelling characters and a rich, historical backdrop that invites readers into a world altogether different from our own. This book is a fantastic choice for any reader who loves historical fiction novels that are vivid and well-researched.
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