Title: Axios: A Spartan Tale
Author: Jaclyn Osborn
Length: 334 Pages
At a Glance: Jaclyn Osborn makes no attempt at subtlety here. The romance in this novel is a strategic attack on the defenseless heart.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: I am Axios of Sparta, and I was born to kill. At age seven, I left home to train with other boys where we were taught obedience, solidarity, military strategy, and how to withstand pain. My harsh upbringing stripped me of my weaknesses and forced me to become strong. Ruthless.
But, I craved something greater—a life I could never have.
Against all odds, and the toughest training a warrior could endure, I found an unexpected love in the arms of a fellow Spartan. He was the very air I breathed and the water that sustained me. Fighting side by side with him, we were invincible. Where he went, I followed.
However, there was no place for love in Sparta. Feelings were for the weak. The only life for a Spartan was one of battle and brutality with no guarantee of tomorrow. In times of war, all men were put to the test, but the greatest challenge for us was not one of swords and spears, but of the heart.
Review: Sometimes the difficulty in writing a review for a book you loved is rooted in the fact that all the superlatives have become so cliché. An Epic Saga, Best of the Year, Action Packed, Sweeping, Heartbreaking, A Love Story for the Ages… All of those apply to Axios: A Spartan Tale, and so many more. Spanning a thirty-year period, beginning to The End, Jaclyn Osborn weaves historical fact with romantic fiction and produces a whole cloth that envelopes readers in the life of a Spartan soldier.
At the age of seven, Spartan boys entered the agoge, a system of rigorous training in the art of war. This was a young man’s destiny from the moment of conception, to birth, to the time he left his hearth and home and became part of a band of brothers. There was no room for compassion in a place that was meant to beat the softness from these young men, and many never made it to adulthood, didn’t survive to the age of twenty when they were then deemed old enough to fight for Sparta. Their life was servitude, and in some ways these soldiers were enslaved to king and country as much as the helots were enslaved to the people of Sparta, a perception more fully realized from the outside looking in.
In 396 BC, at the age of ten, Axios is already three years into his training, a regimen of discipline in body and mind—victory through pain, all for Sparta, love is weakness, fear is shame, spare no mercy for the enemy. But Axios is not a typical Spartan boy. He is a compassionate dreamer who longs for something other than war, and one of the more beautiful elements of this novel is watching Axios’ own battle in reconciling the obedient soldier with his dreams, which contradict everything he is meant to embrace. It’s not a fight easily overcome, and exemplified how Sparta meant to strip their soldiers of their individuality, if not their humanity as well, to transform them each into a well-honed weapon.
When Axios meets Eryx and the two boys form what becomes an enduring and unbreakable bond, readers are gifted with their love story for the ages, deeply emotional and spanning twenty-five years, throwing into stark relief the idea that it is the love between these two men, and for those whom they trust and embrace as brothers in arms, that forged them into the fierce warriors they became. It was the Sacred Band of Thebes, however, that embodied the idea that lovers fought more viciously because they were not only fighting against the enemy but were fighting for and to protect the man they loved. Some Spartans learned this as a matter of happenstance rather than practice, but learn they did.
The group of men who become Axios and Eryx’s family—Haden, Quill, Theon among them—worked their way into my heart, not necessarily because they’re all fully realized characters—some of these men have little page time and less dialogue—but because Osborn does a brilliant job of making them integral to Axios and, by extension, Eryx, and therefore they became important to me. Of course, there is loss, as one would expect in a novel filled with characters who are bred for war, and those losses cut to the quick. Some were a brutal hit to the bone, and the tears flowed unashamedly because I grieved those deaths. How could I not when I’d grown to love those characters so much? For Haden, Axios’ brother in arms and brother-in-law, and, I would imagine for some of the other boys and men as well, the deep bonds of love and friendship between Axios and Eryx altered perceptions, influenced lives, and inspired some to follow their example of a courage emboldened and reinforced by the abiding love they felt for each other.
Stripped down to the sum of its parts—a romance, historical fiction, or a hero’s journey, this book succeeds on all fronts. Every scene in this novel is crafted with an eloquence that in some ways is reminiscent of Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. If you’ve never read that novel, it’s one of the highest compliments I can pay to Axios. If you have read that novel, then you’re more than familiar with the level of excellence this equates to. Trust me, I don’t compare books to Miller’s brilliance lightly. Some of the romantic passages Osborne crafted, however, evoke the same depth of love that Achilles and Patroclus shared, and when spoken by Eryx, a man not often given to emotion, those words resonate all the more.
“In all the ages, there has never been a love like ours. No one has ever loved another as I have loved you. If we fall today, my soul will find yours. For I am eternally yours… in this life and the next.”
The hardest part of loving a book is when you have to let it go and move on. Axios: A Spartan Tale is one of those books that has it all: romantic to the extreme, picturesque in a way only an accomplished wordsmith can achieve, with a warmth and a playful humor contrasting the merciless reality of war. This book is sure to go down as one of the best I’ll read this year.
You can buy Axios: A Spartan Tale here: