Killer of Men, the first in the Long War series, is a historical fiction by Christian Cameron, who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors thanks to his uncanny ability to mix interesting characters and well-documented historical events without getting bogged down with over-descriptive prose or lyrical sentimentalism.
Killer of Men follows Arimnestos, son of a metalsmith, who becomes embroiled in the increasingly fraught international relations between Persia and Greece, first as a slave, then as a soldier, partaking in the Ionian revolt and the sacking of Sardis which kicked off the invasion of Greece by Darius and the beginning of the Greco-Persian Wars.
As is often the case with historical fiction, the reader knows full well how things are going to end, so it’s important that the journey to get to those immovable plot points is one worth taking. And I think Cameron has managed to do so here, for the most part. Arimnestos is a fascinating character, honourable and courageous, but with an underlying layer of violence that he has great difficulty controlling and leads to some unfortunate situations. He’s not especially likeable, but I still managed to empathise with him despite his many flaws.
Cameron also knows how to write a great action scene. His military background and love of Greco-Roman re-enactment are on full display here, as he deftly describes troop formations, hierarchy, weapons, and armour. Both the individual duels and larger battles are fast-paced and well-described, making for a captivating read.
There are a few minor issues I had with the pacing. The story takes a while to get going and lingers for far too long in Ephesus, where we are dragged through an almost “Meet the Kardashian” level of family squabbles. I was also not a fan of the constant interruptions by Arimnestos’s daughter, which broke the flow of the story and drew me out of the narration.
Overall, Killer of Men is an interesting, immersive read which should tick all the boxes of those looking for action-packed Ancient Greek historical fiction.