Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge
Helena P. Schrader
Reviewed by Richard R. Blake for Reader Views (10/10)
Helena P. Schrader introduces the reader to a sweeping bold view of a period in Spartan history that has long been a subject of debate, speculation, and misinformation. “Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge” is the first novel in a planned trilogy based on the biography of a legendary hero. The first book describes his childhood in the Spartan agoge. The second will focus on his years as a citizen, and the third will describe his reign and death.
Leonidas and his twin brother, Cleombrotus, were enrolled in the Agoge at age seven. The program designed to prepare Spartan youth for citizenship focuses on endurance through hardship. Although the boys are members of the king’s family they are subjected to the same harsh “upbringing” of ordinary Spartan youth as boys of the Agoge and have to prove themselves worthy of Spartan citizenship. Completion was often difficult for Leonidas; however, his personal goal was to become the “paragon of perfection.”
Schrader is meticulous in her research. She has done a careful analysis of ancient sources and the works of Nigel Kennel to develop her work. Her literary style, superb character development, and creative imagination combine to draw the reader into this compelling story. I especially valued her ability to convey growth in maturity in Leonidas and his friend Alkander as they dealt with the pathos of the death within the family, and the inequity and injustice of politics and society. A third member of this tight group, Prokles, chose to express himself through a spirit of cockiness demonstrated by disrespect, disruptive conduct, and irresponsible verbal attacks.
The elements of surprise, an ongoing cycle of conflict and resolution, and stimulating dialog blend together to move the plot forward. A large cast of characters, historical and fictional, with names unique to the period, as well as references using unfamiliar words to describe common dwelling places, and titles slowed down my reading. However, these elements add to the validity of Schrader’s competency as a writer.
Helena P. Schrader’s writing in “Leonidas of Sparta: A Boy of the Agoge” is informative, entertaining, and enjoyable, leaving the reader eager for more.