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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When he's not tired, ill or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.