Lancelot by Giles Kristian was an amazing standalone and now, I’ve found Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. I’m starting to feel that historical fiction is the right genre to visit when I’m looking for amazing standalone books. In my opinion, both Lancelot and Gates of Fire achieved what I think at this point is impossible to find in SFF (my favorite genre) books: a standalone masterpiece. With fiery temerity, I’m not even afraid to claim these two as the best standalone books out of every genre I’ve ever read so far.
I could try to tell you all the incredible building blocks that make up this book and warrant these high praises but believe me that I will fail. Let me instead try to constrict my review to two factors: the philosophical content and the prose.
“The hardship of the exercises is intended less to strengthen the back than to toughen the mind. The Spartans say that any army may win while it still has its legs under it; the real test comes when all strength is fled and the men must produce victory on will alone.”
If I’m not mistaken, Gates of Fire is on the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ Reading list. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the philosophical content in this book is simply a jaw-dropping, resonating masterpiece. I’ve never been a soldier or marine, and I sure as hell don’t want to become one; the fear that would come with enlisting would probably make me shit myself to death. I’m always disgusted at the atrocities that humans can do to each other in the times of war. Ironically, wars also bring into focus how amazing and inspiring humanity can be. This book counters the fear and terror of war with perseverance, strength, and flaming resilience. Despite not being a soldier, I do believe that there are tons of incredibly positive messages you can get from reading this book. For example, the Spartans’ valorous attitude in the face of dominance and tyranny is something that's truly worth adapting to your life.
These results were possible only because of Pressfield’s usage of language. The prose was evocative and powerful, capable of igniting a variety of emotions. Pressfield also truly dived into the philosophy and psychology of the Spartans extremely well. Every word—even when they were info dumping—is imbued with a savage gravitational pull that utterly gripped me. Every scene was important in order to reach the culmination found in the final sections of the book, which was awe-inspiring.
Pressfield’s portrayal on The Battle of Thermopylae captured the power and strength of the Spartans. Told in vivid details that seems to transport all your senses into the book, you’ll feel the battle, tragedy, doom, and hope unfolding right in front of your eyes. You won’t be able to stop reading about the savage nature of humanity as it inflicts devastation and the counter method employed by the Spartans. I’m serious, these Spartans in a phalanx formation were a combination of almost literal demigods; functioning together with the same beating heart to become a windmill of death and defending their compatriots while killing anyone who approached them. A kindling ember of hope was lit by the 300 Spartans from the battle that results in a deluge of blood in the gates of fire, turning flesh and blood into gifts for Hades. This battle eventually would become the turning point for a future victory against the Persians and I enjoyed every moment of reading this book.
Picture: The Battle of Thermopylae
Suffice it to say that Gates of Fire has become one of the best escapism experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Don’t let the tragedy stop you from reading this book, because beneath the gores and battle, the nature of this book was hopeful and inspiring. There were myriads of incredibly positive messages in this book and I’ll definitely let them become a part of me as I move forward in my life.
Read this book and adapt the Spartans’ unconquerable strength and wisdom. Read this book at the risk of being invigorated, and adapt the Spartans’ valorous attitude. Read this book when you want to defeat Phobos (fear) and know in the end that strength in camaraderie, love, and good leadership always have a lot of power to pull you out of tough situations. I’m closing this review with one quote about leadership, it’s a bit long but trust me that you won’t regret reading it.
“A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men's loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them...A king does not expend his substance to enslave men, but by his conduct and example makes them free.”