3 out of 4 stars
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The Fox by M.N.J. Butler is a historical recollection of Greek Politics. It is written in the narrative voice of Leotychides, born in the Eurypontid royal family of Sparta. Prince Leotychides was a bright, beautiful, curious little boy who was very observant and aware of his surroundings, even as a child. He mostly relied on his uncle; the Agiad king Pausanios, who was a father figure to him in the absence of his own father Agis, for stories about their history and for answers to any kind of questions a little boy could think of. He was treated as an equal amongst the royals of Sparta but it didn't escape his notice how some people regarded him with a certain look sometimes which he wasn't old enough to understand. When he turned seven, he was sent to "the flocks" comprising boys from all over Sparta who were raised to be equal, honorable and skilled soldiers. It is there where he uses every opportunity to feed his curiosity and learn about every possible thing that would concern a Spartan. He also learns what that look was all about. He then becomes an active element in the political games of the powerful and years later decides to tell the story of how and where the end of the Spartans began.
This book, with a Spartan King with questionable birth as its protagonist takes readers deep into the politics of Greek city-states while also keeping them entertained with accounts of Panhellenic games, secret romances, boyhood innocence and light-hearted moments where Leotychides nags at his scribe who is writing these accounts for him. There is a back-and-forth narration of the past as well as the present and as the plot in the book advances, we finally get to learn what brings about the downfall of the great Spartans.
Butler has made great efforts to research historical events and cultural values of the Greeks in relation to those times to provide the reader with a truly educational experience. I liked how he gave us a different perspective of the conflicts between Sparta and its neighboring enemies. I also loved how this book opened the doors to a whole new culture to me and upon cross-examining a few factual references, I found them to be legit.
However, this book is not for readers who are new to Greek Politics. Certain historical figures who might be common knowledge to Greeks are mentioned without much of an introduction and there are references to events that beginners may not be familiar with, this makes it a little confusing. As a reader new to Greek history, I personally didn't find this an issue since I was greatly interested in knowing about Spartan culture and that kind of information is available in abundance in this book. I did have to constantly look up a few people, events and places to better understand the content. That being said, I think this would be a perfect book for advanced readers.
There is a glossary of terms at the beginning of this book but I found it very inconvenient to keep scrolling back to refer to them. I just looked those up too. Perhaps footnotes would have been better.
This book had quite a few grammatical errors, a common type of error was with quotation marks which would either be missing or there would be an extra mark inserted randomly, and it was quite frustrating to figure out who was speaking in scenes with multiple speakers. For this reason, I would rate this book 3 out of 4. I didn't mind doing the extra homework as I found it all extremely interesting and educational, so I will not be taking a star away for that.
I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Greece, provided they have a basic knowledge of events and notable figures.
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