This is the third novel I have read by Steven Pressfield, and all of them have been historical novels set in the Ancient Mediterranean during wartime. The other two – Gates of Fire which tells the story of the Spartans at Thermopylae, and Tides of War which follows Alcibiades’ assassinator through the Peloponnesian War – captured me because of their immediate ability to drag me deep into a world that has not existed for thousands of years. They were raw and sometimes too-real, dark and dirty, and made history human for me by throwing in the occasional smile. In comparison, The Virtues of War was oddly clean.
The title is apt. The narrative wraps itself around questions about honor and glory, about shame and regret, and where the line between conqueror and murderer lay on the battlefield. It frequently returns to a conversation of will – the will to fight, the will to conquer, the will to discover, the will to reach for what is beyond us – and by the end of the novel, the reader has simply come along on a discussion of what it takes it not only want to conquer the world, but actually fight for things that far from home.
As usual, Pressfield wrote with precision and energy. While I enjoyed his other novels more, this one was well worth my time.
I bought this book after hearing a one sentence description of it: A superhero story about two college roommates who gain superpowers together, but the reader doesn’t know which is the hero and which is the villain until the end.
Fifteen pages into the book, I was hooked on the characters (who were equal parts charming and concerning) and the story (which promised to be that ride at the park that you hopped off and got right back into line for). And I was absolutely certain that I was going to spoil the reading experience if I spent all my time trying to point to the villain. It’s him! No, him! No, him! No, HIM! No, the dog!
I let it go, and enjoyed the book immensely. The writing was face-paced, and smooth, the entire thing living up to the promise of the engaging beginning. The cast of characters arrived with superpowers, problems, and heart and the book wrapped them all together with multiple perspectives and multiple timelines. I am a sucker for one of those things, and look sideways at the other, but thought this book used them both well.
At the end, I thought I wasn’t supposed to have pointed to the hero and the villain, but questioned whether either of them were heroes at all. Was a hero made simply by opposing the villain, or did they have to do something more?
What have you been reading?