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A Man at Arms

Review

A Man at Arms

A MAN AT ARMS puts forth a story so compelling and rich in detail that you are completely absorbed in the time, the culture and the danger. The writing is beautiful, the research is impressive, and the drama --- given that most readers surely will know a part of the outcome --- is surprisingly heightened. As our characters trek the ancient world, they explore friendship, loyalty, zeal, conversion, love and what it means to be a warrior.

Steven Pressfield’s first novel since 2011 recounts how the Apostle Paul used a courier named Michael and his mute daughter, Ruth, to send a letter to Corinth --- which readers certainly will recognize as the biblical Epistle to the Corinthians. Telamon is a former legionary, released from service for valor. He is to find Michael and Ruth, intercept the subversive letter, and return them to the Romans. He is the perfect man for the job. With the entire world on the hunt for them, this simple task transforms itself into a journey not only of distance, but of insight and conversion.

"A MAN AT ARMS puts forth a story so compelling and rich in detail that you are completely absorbed in the time, the culture and the danger."

The story begins with a demonstration of Telamon’s valor and how it causes a young David to follow as his apprentice. Upon his commission to find “the most dangerous man in Palestine,” Telamon and David set out on a journey that will expose them to danger, betrayal, love and more. What begins simply as a payday for a bounty hunter will change the lives of all involved.

Telamon is not just a man who fights in a war --- he is a warrior. A man who has shaped his entire worldview on its disciplines, he possesses the mens bellator, or “warrior’s mind.” He teaches David about the practicalities of fighting, as well as mental training. As their journey progresses, Ruth also learns. The lesson here is that these seemingly disparate ideals are not incompatible. In fact, they have a yin and yang relationship. Earlier Telamon tells Michael, “You asked what God I worshipped. She is a goddess. The oldest and most primordial of all, called by my countrymen Eris. Strife. All things are born in strife, even the earth itself, and all are extinguished in strife.”

But Telamon and his worldview are challenged by each and every character he encounters. A particularly striking scene ends with him staring at Ruth and the others and saying, “Who are you? Who are all of you? And how, by the sunless track to hell, has my life become so entangled with yours?” A short while later his conversion is apparent. When questioned about his intentions regarding the letter, he replies, “That which this child commands, I shall perform.”

A MAN AT ARMS weaves a great deal of history effortlessly into a compelling story --- the culture of the first-century Roman Empire is everywhere --- but it wants us to read the mysterious letter. Regardless of where the book takes us, the letter looms. As a modern reader who knows exactly what it says, this might appear anticlimactic. It is not. Eventually you will hear this letter. Although you may have read or heard it countless times before, Pressfield elegantly creates a vivid context of why the letter was written and in what spirit it was intended.

I enjoyed A MAN AT ARMS immensely. The history, the writing and the provocation posed to the reader all made the book wonderful to read and reread. I recommend it without reservation.

Reviewed by John Vena on March 26, 2021

A Man at Arms
by Steven Pressfield

  • Publication Date: March 2, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393540979
  • ISBN-13: 9780393540970