3 out of 4 stars
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Philippos, the king of Macedonia, is interested in the history of Sparta. He, therefore, charges Leotychides, a Spartan prince-cum-mercenary, to set Sparta's story down in writing. The Fox by M. N. J. Butler is an autobiographical account of Sparta's culture, taking place around 400 B.C.
Leotychides was born in the Eurypotind palace as heir to King Agis. However, unlike kings' heirs, he was reared in a flock (a Spartiate institution, charged with the upbringing of Sparta's men). In the wake of King Agis' death, Argisilaos, the king's brother, and uncle to Leotychides usurped the throne. To keep his promise to his dying father that he will ensure Sparta stayed united, Leotychides relinquished his claim to the throne and returned to the flock where he grew up into one of the most reckoned generals of Sparta. The reign of Argisilaos was, however, detrimental to Sparta, and fearing that Leotychides might reclaim the throne, Argisilaos banished him.
M. N. J. Butler's The Fox is a thrilling account of love, family, friendship, betrayal, and war and its gores in ancient Sparta. The ability of the author to ascribe such an epic life to Leotychides, who dropped out of history when his uncle usurped the throne, is nothing short of masterful. The author skillfully intertwined the history of Sparta with the fictitious life of Leotychides, which enabled him to narrate the story from the perspective of a witness.
M. N. J. Butler picturesquely describes the events in the book. The ebb and flow of seasons and the beauty of life in the flocks made the book adventurous. Furthermore, the vivid description of the battlefield created a sense of oneness between the narrator and the reader of this epic tale. The hilarity of the narration is captivating; it compelled me to flip the pages of the book from the beginning to the end. Moreover, Butler uniquely described the adventures of Leotychides, such that the narration was able to evoke tears, laughter, anger, sadness, and other emotions felt by the narrator in the reader.
Nevertheless, The Fox was not without flaws. The book contained several typographical errors. For instance, the use of "he" instead of "she" told against this enthralling book. The prologue and the first chapter were somewhat hard to understand, and the Greek words like pentatarchos and names like Kleombrotos, were difficult to remember, even though the author explained what the words mean or who the people are at the beginning of the book.
That said, I rate The Fox by M. N. J. Butler 3 out of 4 stars due to the challenges mentioned above. I recommend it to the lovers of history or anyone who enjoys an adventurous tale from another time. The author was keen not to use any foul language in the book. Sexual content in the book is almost zero, though homosexuality manifested in the Spartan culture. For those who are after an ancient feel-good story, The Fox is a must-have.
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