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The Olympic Charioteer
Helena P. Schrader
iUniverse (2005)
ISBN 9780595367825

Reviewed by Linda Benninghoff for Reader Views (12/06)

This excellent historical novel about two ancient Greek city-states, Sparta and Tegea, seems to deal with the question of identity. The hero, Lysandradis, is sold as a slave after Sparta is defeated by Tegea.  Having won the Olympic victory in the games for Sparta, will he wind up a Spartan citizen or a citizen of the country who once made him a slave, where he now has found a home?  Who is Lysandradis?  Is he more than a charioteer, more than a Spartan citizen?

This well-researched novel traces Lysandridas’ progress as he travels from city to city. It also details the Spartan democracy and contrasts Sparta with Tegea.  The characters are as believable as in any novel set in modern-times, and the world they live in is filled-in, wonderfully detailed and vivid.  The novel is as much an adventure story as a story about the question of identity--what makes Lysandradis who he is?

The novel is also about horses, riders and charioteers, and politics.  Although it uses fictional characters, it traces actual events leading up to the first non-aggression pact in recorded history.  Lysandridas becomes involved in the world of politics, as does his friend, Ambelos, the club-footed son of one of the Tegean leaders.  One of the meaningful parts of this book for me was to read about Ambelos as he develops political savvy and gains respect despite being crippled.

As Lysandridas also gains skill, he realizes he is something more than a charioteer, more than either a Spartan or a Tegean. One of the wonderful things about reading the book is to watch him pursue his quest for identity and for a true home while sometimes fearing for his life or fearing that an Olympic victory, on which the country’s fate is hinged, won’t necessarily be won.
Scene followed scene and the action unfolded. “The Olympic Charioteer” kept me very interested and I learned about ancient history in the process.