The Ionia Sanction by Gary Corby
The Ionia Sanction is a sequel to The Pericles Commission. It features Nicolaos, the young Athenian who has invented the job of agent in order to learn politics to avoid becoming a sculptor like his father.
I liked The Pericles Commission and the only quibble I had was that Athens wasn’t as grim in Gary Corby’s book as I thought it might be. That’s no bad thing because I thought the ancient world could be an unpleasant place. Pretty much as unpleasant as in The Ionia Sanction, which is slightly darker and more violent than the first book.
The book opens with the apparent suicide of Thorion, a proxenos. A proxenos was someone who would help with the interests of a foreign city. Thorion was an Athenian citizen with connections to Ephesus, so when his suicide note suggests he’s committed treason Pericles decides someone needs to find out what has happened. He sends Nicolaos to investigate. It quickly becomes clear Thorion was murdered, and events lead to Nicolaos leaving the safety of Athens and travelling to Ionia, inside the Persian empire.
Like the first book, The Ionia Sanction is based around a historical fact. In this case it’s the life of Themistocles. Themistocles was the general responsible for the defeat of the Persians at Salamis. However, Themistocles was not a modest man and with some Spartan help he was framed for treason and ostracised. To flee to safety Themistocles surrendered himself to the Persian king and became satrap of Magnesia, on the coast of what is now Turkey.
The text runs smoothly. The only jarring note for me is that these are edited for the American market. It means Themistocles talks about assholes, which looks odd. Assholes feature in a section of the book due to a method of execution that uses a sharp wooden stake, tiptoes and a slow death through exhaustion. Gary Corby also had to find a sexual vice that a man had that could be used for blackmail. This man was an ancient Greek, so a small round of applause is due for finding one.
A common problem for any book like this is that there were some things known in ancient Greece that the reader doesn’t know. How do you get this information in? Fantasy authors have that well-used standby “As you know your father, the king…” before launching on five pages of exposition. Here the source of knowledge is Diotima, the (ex)girlfriend of Nicolaos who left for Ephesus a few months before and a female slave, Asia. It’s not stretching credibility for Nicolaos to know very little about the Persian empire, so it works without the sound of narrative gears crunching.
Fortunately the amount of exposition needed wasn’t too much. The book is a story, not a history lesson. As a story it works. Not everything was obvious, I didn’t work out any of the murders before they were revealed, but there was nothing that seemed too contrived.
It’s taken me a while to read it. I didn’t want to read it while working on anything ancient because I didn’t want it to feel like work. I’ll probably make a point of getting Sacred Games when it comes out and buying an authors next book is probably a pretty good indication of how his last one went.
The thing I’ll grouch about this time is the cover. As art I like it, but it doesn’t fit well with the book. It looks a bit YA, and I think The Ionia Sanction is more 18+. The first two books will be out shortly in paperback, with the Australian covers. After a couple more books I’ll complain if the covers aren’t in the same style, so this isn’t a major gripe.
If you enjoyed The Pericles Commission then the The Ionia Sanction is worth your money. If you’ve read neither then starting with the first book is the better bet.
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