Like the first book, and most David Gemmell novels for that matter, the story is told through multiple POV characters. There are a few familiar faces from the first book, including the dread Helikaon and his great love, the fiery Andromache, not to mention the mighty Hektor and the fabled storyteller, Odysseus. But the main narrative introduces three new characters, as you can see from the blurb:
War is looming, and all the kings of the Great Green are gathering, friends and enemies, each with their own dark plans of conquest and plunder.
Into this maelstrom of treachery and deceit come three travellers; Piria, a runaway priestess nursing a terrible secret, Kalliades, a warrior with high ideals and a legendary sword, and his close friend, Banokles, who will carve his own legend in the battles to come.
Together they journey to the fabled city of Troy, where a darkness is falling that will eclipse the triumphs and personal tragedies of ordinary mortals for centuries to come.
There are two slight problems with this approach that I can see. Firstly, it means the main narrative of the series - set up so well in the first book - is effectively put on hold for the first third of book 2 while we get to know these new characters. Secondly, it means less page time for the characters we already know and love, who are probably the main reason readers of the first book have come back for more. That didn't bother me too much, as I felt the new characters offered a fresh perspective that helped develop one of the original cast and pushed forward the main story, but I can see why people might have an issue with it.
Kalliades and Banokles made a brief appearance in the first book, as part of the failed Mykene attack on Troy, and, indeed, it's because of that failure that they find themselves on the wrong side of the Mykene king, Agamemnon. The pair have served together for as long as they can remember, at that friendship proves their best hope of surviving the world as an enemy of Agamemnon.
"Nothing of real worth can ever be bought. Love, friendship, honour, valour, respect. All these things have to be earned."
Banokles is one of those big, hulking warriors with a heart of gold that Gemmell wrote so well, and he especially puts great weight in his friendship with Kalliades. Kalliades himself is one of the nobler Mykene we encounter. Having survived a traumatic childhood, he seems to have a soft spot for hopeless cases, like Banokles and the girl, Piria.
While fleeing Agamemnon’s wrath, Kalliades and Banokles end up rescuing the mysterious Piria from a disastrous situation of her own. Traumatised by the encounter, it takes Piria a while to warm up to her two rescuers, but eventually their relationship flourishes into a great friendship. Piria, we learn, is a runaway priestess from Thera, seeking her friend Andromache. There's more to her backstory than she lets on, but I'll let you discover that yourself.
Eventually the party of three are themselves rescued by the famous Odysseus, whose backstory we learn more of as their journey to Troy unfolds. Odysseus, along with all the great kings, is heading to Troy, to participate in the wedding games of Hektor and Andromache. He agrees to take the three newcomers with him, Piria in the hopes of being reunited with Andromache, and Kalliades and Banokles in the hope of making a new life for themselves.
It's when the cast reach Troy that the story really comes to life. Once again, the scheming and counter scheming of the Ancient Greek nobility makes for an interesting backdrop to the twists and turns of the characters lives. Much of the story takes place in Troy, the Golden City, a place that feels rich and alive, despite the growing threat beyond its walls.
"When the wolf slaughters the sheep we shrug and say, it is his nature. When the sheepdog turns on the flock it breaks our hearts, for his actions are treacherous."
Odysseus’s past catches up with him back in Troy, and, manipulated by the likes of Agamemnon, he finds himself drawn into a bitter feud with Helikoan, whom he raised like a son. The conflict between Troy and Mykene takes its toll on Helikoan, with the dark edge to his soul seen in the first book slowly threatening to spill forth. It's intriguing, and even a little heart-wrenching, to watch the feud between these two men unfold, knowing that the coming war will set them against one another.
And that's not all. Along with treachery and heroics, you'll find unrequited love, rivalries coming to a head, long laid schemes brought to fruition, and friendships left broken as the Trojan War begins in earnest.
Gemmell’s easy writing style flows smoothly from the page, bringing Troy and the Great Green to life. The characters are deep and flawed, with more than enough about them to draw the reader on.
While I don't think this is as strong as the first book and plays out too much like a middle act for the new characters to help it stand by its own merits, I do think the climax sets things up nicely for the final book in the trilogy, Fall of Kings.
It's an engaging, entertaining ride that offers a taste of the glory and horror to come from the Trojan War.
Oh, and Achilles makes an appearance too. And trust me when I say a David Gemmell Achilles is something to behold!