The setting is Athens in 460BC and Nicolaos, son of Sophroniscus the sculptor, is struggling with his fledgling career as an investigator. However the city’s leader Pericles does call on Nico’s services when Thorian, an Athenian official, is found hanged as if he committed suicide. Nico soon determines that the man was murdered but is then given the more critical task of locating the murderer and retrieving a scroll containing important information which Thorian had in his possession prior to his death. When his plan to catch the murderer quickly goes astray Nico goes on something of an epic quest which sees him rescue a young girl from being consigned to a brothel and takes him to Ephesus where his former girlfriend Diotima has lived since Nico’s father refused them permission to marry. Once there Nico’s problems only get worse as he joins the bizarre household of a sworn enemy of Athens, Themistocles, and must convince Diotima he hasn’t taken up with any other women.
The historical aspects of this book, like those of its predecessor, are first rate. There is a lot of detail provided about life in Ancient Greece and this is done generally done as part of the story in an engaging way. I found the depiction of the differences between Greek and Persian cultures to be particularly compelling as it is done with a genuine curiosity and lack of judgement. As always for me it’s the little details about day-to-day life in different times that stick in my head and here there are many such pockets of interest. Nico’s aversion to the Persian habit of wearing trousers for example made me laugh; it doesn’t seem to matter what century we’re in we humans have difficulty with people who dress ‘funny’.
I was actually quite chuffed when I found this book in audio format but on reflection I’m not sure it was the best choice for the story, or at least not for me. The narrator, Erik Davies, did a great job with the voices but I’m afraid I found the narration a bit slow (it often happens for me with American narrators who just speak more slowly than the English ones I listen to a lot). But the main reason I struggled with the book in audio format is that it made the entirely modern language much more noticeable. As I remarked in my review of the first book in this series my personal preference is for historical fiction to make some effort to use language that sounds as if it belongs to the period. I acknowledge this is mostly artifice but it helps me transport myself to the different time being depicted. In audio format the modern phrases and terminology used throughout The Ionia Sanction grated more than I think they would have in print and I think this was the main factor in me struggling at times to remain swept up in the historical world.
The beginning and the end of this book are strong from a storytelling point of view, full of action, adventure and engaging little side threads to the main story. While it could just be another effect of the slow-talking narrator for whatever reason I didn’t find the period in the middle of the book where Nico is lingering at the estate of Themistocles (a period of several months) as compelling as the rest of the story. *It just seems to meander a little too much for me as we discover some members of the household have a peculiar predilictions and there is a romantic interlude that goes on a bit too long (though I am the ultimate non-rmantic cynic) while life idles slowly by. Overall though Nico is really quite charming and carries the story well with his mix of naivety, ambition and growing intelligence.
I’m not sure I’d recommend the audio version of The Ionia Sanction unless you’re new to listening and want something a little slower to ease you into reading by your ears. However as a historical novel with loads of period detail and funny, engaging characters the book is a very enjoyable read.
*Post updated to remove potential spoiler
I reviewed The Pericles Commission, book 1 in this series, earlier this year
Interestingly for me Gary Corby has discussed the ‘voice’ used in historical fiction more than once at his very informative and entertaining blog. His post about the use of OK got me thinking and a post earlier this week about different styles of historical fiction made me squirm a little. I do feel guilty for not being able to come more easily to grips with a historical story in which words like sexpot are used. Corby’s argument that he uses current colloquial dialogue just as the citizens of ancient Athens would have had their own version of is not wrong. I just can’t quite seem to get my eyes (or ears) to agree.
My rating: 3/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website: http://blog.garycorby.com/
Publisher: Dreamscape Media 
ISBN: N/A (downloaded from audible.com)
Length: 11 hours 59 minutes
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought
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