THE TEN THOUSAND
The ill-fated campaign of Xenophon's army in the political chaos following the Peloponnesian War is the subject of Ford's debut, a long and labyrinthine affair that begins with the army's successful journey to Babylon and an initial battle in which the Persian forces are routed. But the tide quickly turns when the Persians sneak behind enemy lines and pillage the Greek camp, leaving Xenophon's army stranded hundreds of miles from home with few supplies. Rather than starve by taking the desert route back, Xenophon decides to attempt a perilous journey through hostile enemy terrain populated by several dangerous tribes, and as they progress the Greeks are forced to endure a horrific series of hardship just to survive. The more intriguing scenes: the Greeks use a tribe of deadly slingshot artists to defeat a formidable enemy; they get waylaid by a cache of poisonous honey; a winter march results in the death of dozens of soldiers . The major subplot in the book—narrated by Xenophon's alter ego, Themostigenes (nicknamed Theo)—concerns the protagonist's adventurous but tortured affair with a royal Persian woman named Asteria who is traveling with the Greek army, and whom he saves from death during battle. Ford has some compelling material, and his account includes authentic details about ancient peoples, customs and battle strategies. But his melodramatic, turgid prose produces a rather monotonous story delivered in heroic overtones, with little feel for pace, no true climax and a dearth of fully realized characters. The result is a novel that fails to live up to its subject's potential. (June)
Forecast:The publisher hopefully compares this novel to Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire, but this is no match—and won't match Gates's sales, either.