The review today is by Paul Garrett
Stephen Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign and Tides of War, about the Spartans, Alexander the Great and Alcibiades, respectively, returns to ancient history with his latest effort, A Man at Arms.
Teleman of Arcadia is a Greek mercenary who once served in the Roman army’s famous Tenth Fretensis Legion. He is dispatched by the Roman consul in Palestine to intercept and stop by any means a dangerous insurgent, said to be carrying a letter that could cause the downfall of the Empire.
When Teleman becomes allied with the man and his daughter, a mute, the mercenary and his little band of unlikely heroes must defend themselves against bandits, Arab mercenaries and The Roman army itself to deliver the letter, which is a missive from the Apostle Paul to the Greek city of Corinth.
Pressfield’s book The War of Art about overcoming “resistance” has nearly taken on the lofty status of Natalie Goldberg’s classic Writing down the Bones or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I have always thought his books about writing to be better than his stories. This book is no exception.
His prose is hard to take sometimes, as his motto seems to be to never use a one or two syllable word when a three or four syllable word is available. I have nothing against what Hemingway called “ten-dollar words” back when that was a lot of money. As a writer of fiction myself, I can sympathize with trying to come up with a word that will evoke the exact meaning or feeling one is looking for, but in an action novel, multisyllabic utterances decelerate the deciphering of the manuscript. It’s sort of like trying to run through ankle deep mud. There are also a few escapes and close calls that stretch credulity.
The book’s saving graces are Pressfield’s insistence on historically accurate portrayals of characters and setting, the many surprising plot twists, the riveting action sequences, and the insight into what it must have been like for the early Christians as they faced seemingly overwhelming odds to keep their nascent religion alive. Though perhaps not Pressfield’s best effort, A Man at Arms is still an entertaining read.