Title: Axios: A Spartan Tale
Author: Jaclyn Osborn
Release Date: July 19th, 2017
Genre(s): Historical Romance
Length: 362 pages
Reviewed by: Lily G. Blunt
Heat Level: 4 flames out of 5
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
I am Axios of Sparta, and I was born to kill. At age seven, I left home to train with other boys where we were taught obedience, solidarity, military strategy, and how to withstand pain. My harsh upbringing stripped me of my weaknesses and forced me to become strong. Ruthless.
But, I craved something greater—a life I could never have.
Against all odds, and the toughest training a warrior could endure, I found an unexpected love in the arms of a fellow Spartan. He was the very air I breathed and the water that sustained me. Fighting side by side with him, we were invincible. Where he went, I followed.
However, there was no place for love in Sparta. Feelings were for the weak. The only life for a Spartan was one of battle and brutality with no guarantee of tomorrow. In times of war, all men were put to the test, but the greatest challenge for us was not one of swords and spears, but of the heart.
I taught about life in Ancient Greece to nine/ten-year old children for the best part of twenty years and enjoyed researching the Classical Age of Greece during that time. Life in Sparta was one of the popular topics, along with the various myths and legends. I often asked pupils to imagine they were a boy who’d been sent off to training camp or a girl whose brother had become a soldier and to write about their life using as many facts as they could to make up a story with a historical feel to it. I would place ticks in the paper for each piece of information they’d include. The aim was to receive as many ticks as possible.
The first third of Axios reminded me of these lessons. It was almost as if the story was written to ensure it included certain facts about life in Sparta. Not that there were long paragraphs of information dumping. Just every so often four or five sentences telling the reader who or what was being referred to or explaining why and how things happened, almost as if snippets of text books had been sprinkled into the story. All for the benefit of the reader and not what Axios would have been thinking at the time. This had the effect of detaching me from the main character at the beginning as it interrupted the flow of the story. For example, Axios passes a helot girl; cue paragraph about Spartan women and their use of helots to do domestic chores, then it’s back to the main story. So we have young Axios explaining what Spartan life was like as he experienced various aspects of it as a child.
For much of the story, Axios comes across as a 21st century man plonked in the 4th century BC, with a modern mindset and way of looking at the ancient world and his life in Sparta. His attitudes to slavery (the helots) and the Spartan way of life and beliefs were shown to be at odds with the typical Spartan viewpoint. However, we will never know how the average Spartan soldier viewed his life and if any of them would have held such noble views.
Having said all this, I’m still giving the story 5*. I loved the relationship and romance that develops between Axios and Eryx as boys and as they grow into men. Their conversations and intimate moments are beautifully written. The friends in their Spartan brotherhood and the connection between each other adds a further dynamic to the story. And as the story culminates towards the end you begin to fear the worst for these lovers and soldiers. In fact, there are many tear-inducing moments along the way as Axios and Eryx profess their love for each other.
“I do not fear death because I’m afraid of dying, Ery… I fear it because it would take me from you”
And yes, I cried a little at the end and also at about 70%. In fact, I cheated at this point and read the ending before going back again. I knew what was going to happen anyway because of spoilers, but somehow knowing made reading to the end easier to bear. At least Axios and Ery had many years of happiness together even though the threat of war and battle hung over their heads all the time.
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you,” he whispered, pressing his forehead to mine. “I would kill any man, go any distance, and burn the whole world down if it meant keeping you safe.”
Kudos to the author for all the research and for producing a wonderfully epic romance. Her style of writing is reminiscent of archaic language and suited the historical setting in a different place and time. The story spans many decades and there are jumps of several years at a time, but this works well within the story. You certainly get the impression of the passage of time. The intimate scenes start off rather understated, but no less beautiful, and become more explicit as the story progresses.
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“He was the very air I breathed and the water that sustained me. The anchor that kept me from drifting out to sea. My safe haven from the storm.
My warrior. My lover. My heart.”