While it took me awhile to get through this book because of circumstances, Last of the Amazons was a book I couldn’t put down when I resumed reading it in the dead of night ’til the morning.
Author : Steven Pressfield
Publication Date – First Edition : June 1, 2002 (Hardcover)
Publisher – First Edition : Doubleday
Publication Date – This Edition : July 2003 (Trade Paperback)
Publisher – This Edition : Bantam Dell
ISBN : 0-553-38204-7
The Story :
It is about 1250 B.C., way before Troy or the Battle of Thermopylae, a time where stories have been regarded as myth or legend. It has been told that a nation of Amazons, a warrior race of only women, existed as an independent, self-sufficient society that stood as a testament to the strength, intelligence and hardiness of the supposedly weaker gender. Steven Pressfield picks up on this tale from accounts of Plutarch and legends and carves his own marvelous what-if of an all-female society with its own culture, mores, lifestyle and government.
The story opens with a Greek family’s nanny, an Amazon slave named Selene, who escapes and unwittingly induces her eldest charge to follow her. A search party of some of the noblest Greeks follow the trail of their comrade’s daughter and Selene. While at sea, the men who had previously encountered the Amazons with King Theseus tell their tales of these extraordinary warrior women.
When King Theseus of Athens accidentally discovers these legendary women, he sets off an irrevocable chain of events that seal the Amazons’ fate. Antiope, the Amazonian queen falls in love with Theseus, and elopes with him. The new queen Eleuthera tells her nation that the elopement was actually a kidnapping. In their fury, the entire Amazon nation rounds up its allies and marches on a warpath to Athens to rescue their queen. The story that follows centers on the politics, logistics, and brilliant war tactics these Amazons employ in their war with Athens and continues on to when Antiope returns to them as a foe and heralds the Amazonian civilization’s diminishment into the twilight of their age.
The Review :
I have come out impressed by yet another of novel by Steven Pressfield. Last year, I had been floored by Gates of Fire, his gripping must-read version of the Spartans’ desperate stand against the Persian empire at the Battle of Thermopylae. While Last of the Amazons falls a little short of this novel, it, nevertheless, still is a dazzling read.
There is nothing exciting in the first few pages of the book with the plodding pace and a rather abstract ramble on Amazonian beliefs. But if you just hang in there, you’ll notice that the pace picks up in a while. Soon, you find yourself drawn into a fascinating legendary nation of wholly warrior women equal to men in physical stamina and battle skills. Pressfield tells of a civilization of true feminists, sufficient unto themselves and needing no man except for the serious business of procreation.
Although Pressfield has his doubts of the existence of the Amazons, he writes of them as if he himself had gone back in time and been intimate with their society, lifestyle, and psyche. Indeed, Pressfield’s real forte here is his ability to get readers involved with the story and through his vivid writing, immersed in the culture and mindset of the Amazonian civilization.
Without the author’s note at the end about the historical reality of the Amazons being largely based on Plutarch’s accounts and unsupported by archeological evidence, I would have thought this story based on historical fact and not simply on the author’s remarkable imagination. I am sure however that his renderings of the battle scenes are well researched accounts of how lance, shield, horse, etc. had been employed or how different ancient warrior nations conducted themselves in battle.
To Read Or Not To Read:
Ancient battle enthusiasts will be delighted with Pressfield’s meticulous and fascinating detailing. It all comes to life with his vivid accounts of battle strategy, politics, weapons, psychology , emotions, tactics and gore in living detail. For instance, it is quite fascinating to read about how the discus was employed as a weapon.
For the more sociologically inclined readers, Pressfield will not disappoint with his wonderful depiction of Amazonian culture and lifestyle. In addition, he handles the dynamics of human decisions and emotions very well. There even is a marvelous debate between King Theseus and Eleuthera on the advantages or disadvantages of civilized society, the Athenian King arguing for the settlement of a civilization for its advancement while the upcoming Amazonian Queen rebutting a wandering society’s grounding for its loss of freedom and oneness with the natural earth.
Just a small caveat: Some may be confused with the format of the book. The story is told from about four or five character viewpoints so it would be most helpful to take note of the narrator’s name before every chapter. Also, as I have said, this book needs a little more reading attention with the slew of names and the author’s wordy and somewhat old-fashioned prose (perhaps made to match the “ancient-ness” of the story(?) ).
In A Nutshell:
Steven Pressfield is my go-to for ancient war books. I have not yet read any author who can match his breathtaking battle scenes laid out in all its glory, page after riveting page. If you have, I would appreciate the info for my comparison. Moreover, this book exemplifies Pressfield’s exceptional talent in handling intricate layers in a story.
On the whole, Last of the Amazons is a very well written novel, mesmerizing on all accounts.
My Mark : Outstanding