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Isle of Stone by Nicholas Nicastro
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Isle of Stone

by Nicholas Nicastro

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774243,358 (3.5)12
With vivid prose and unswerving attention to historical detail, the author of Empire of Ashes spins a tale of two brothers who rise through Spartan society and meet their fate--surrounded by the Athenian navy on the barren island of Sphacteria. Original.

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On the whole, I enjoyed this novel, despite what I consider flaws. The last sentence is a zinger!

The story concerns two brothers, Antalcidas and Epitadas, their births and education in the Rearing [agoge] where the former earns the nickname "Stone", as he shows himself to be a past master at throwing them accurately. In the Peloponnesian War, the brothers serve together on the Island of Sphacteria, survive its blockade and siege, finally surrendering to the Athenians with their men. This is unheard of for Spartans! After Spartans return home, they are shunned as "tremblers", or cowards. One brother distinguishes himself at a later battle in the war and is lauded by his city.

I felt the author was not completely sure whether he was writing a straight historical novel, a comedy [because of humorous remarks and incidents ranging from the silly to the sardonic], a melodrama, or, since most of these Spartans are pictured as caricatures: a satire. I caught all four genres at one time or another. Spartans were presented as mostly negative stereotypes, giving an insight into the stereotypical ultra-macho view of the Spartan mindset. Antalcidas, the protagonist, and his cultured helot servant Doulos [the word is Greek for servant] are developed more than any of the others, who are exaggerated "types". Most unusually, helot and master develop a real friendship. The action skipped back and forth in time and location; the references to modern times could have been left out with no loss to the novel. Much of the action was presented from the Athenian side: in their Assembly, on Pylos, and aboard an Athenian ship blockading the island. The final face-off between Athenians and Spartans was well done. The interchange on Athenian politics among some of the oarsmen on the Athenian trireme "Terror" was hilarious. The thoughts of the premature cyanotic baby, Molobrus, rejected by the Ephorate and thrown unceremoniously into a chasm, right before his death, was moving. The author could have left out the reference to masturbation in little boys, Antalcidas's relationship with his mentor as eromenos, and other crudeness.

Recommended with reservations. ( )
  janerawoof | Jul 4, 2015 |
Historical fiction with frequent asides to the modern day - the writing often gets sidetracked on this vein. ( )
  bdtrump | May 9, 2015 |
The Battle at Sphacteria was a devastating one for Sparta. Not because they sustained big losses in soldiers or territory, but because it sullied the Spartan reputation for being an indomitable military force that never surrendered, regardless of the cost. It makes for a great story, of course, so I was quite enthusiastic going into The Isle of Stone.

The story follows two brothers; the oldest conceived during the rape of his mother by an escaped helot, and though no one knows it isn't her husbands she neglects the boy out of shame and humiliation. The other, her first true son sired by her husband, is coddled to the point of being spoiled by Spartan standards. It is an interesting duo and the most intriguing part about this book is seeing the comparison between these two characters.

Unfortunately, just about every other aspect of this book is dismal. The text is nauseatingly "male," with all the rapt fascination with sex, genitals, and feces you might expect from something that might be described that way. Though there are a couple strong female characters, it doesn't keep the book from feeling despicably phallic. I suppose the author is trying to put the reader into the mind of a male Spartan soldier, but man, it's all third-person, the narrator could really have been a bit more neutral. Much of the book just made my skin crawl, and I really could have done without the group masturbation among 7-year-old boys, thank you very much.

The battle scene, which makes up half the book, is quite a bit better, but I still didn't find overall book to be terribly enjoyable. It probably does a decent job of bringing the Spartan mentality to life though, so perhaps that is something... ( )
1 vote Ape | Jun 30, 2013 |
Nicholas Nicastro’s “The Isle of Stone” is an ambitious piece of historical fiction recounting the first time in classical Greece that a Spartan army actually surrendered. Mr. Nicastro weaves a tale of ancient Sparta that is seemingly accurate and diametrically opposed to movies like 300. Ironically, a number of scenes read like B-movies and TV shows. In any case, the novel contains many interesting and well developed characters but is a little skimpy with the action. Some characters, like the helot Doulos, I wish were more fully developed so that when their time came to cross the river Styx I would feel something more than “oh well.” ( )
  BruderBane | Jun 30, 2008 |
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