490 BCE – The Athenians have just pulled off the impossible and out-flanked the Persians in a battle on the fields of Marathon. But it was not a defeat. The Persians retreated to their ships and set sail for Athens. Now Eucles has to make it to Athens on foot to warn them before the Persians arrive by sea.
Eucles, born a slave, had always been an excellent runner. In fact, winning a foot race won him and his family their freedom. But it has also cost him dearly. As punishment for failing to deliver a message, the tyrant Hippias killed his parents.
A few years after that, Hippias was forced out and the Athenians returned to democratic rule. Now Hippias is back, at the head of a large Persian fleet. The Athenians, being vastly outnumbered, send Eucles to Sparta, 153 miles away to beg for aid. He is refused. Then Eucles runs back as fast as he can so the Athenians can prepare for war.
Eucles seems to be the only one who realizes just how ruthless and pitiless Hippias really is. He is the most motivated to keep Hippias from winning, running to Sparta and back, fighting in the battle at Marathon, and then running the mere 26 miles to Athens. He even manages to rally the Athenians and outsmart Hippias.
There are many variations of the story of the history of the Marathon, none with great documentation. In Marathon, Yakin combines a few of the stories, relying most heavily on the version by the Greek historian Herodotus. Yakin deftly fills in details of Eucles’ backstory, showing Hippias’s mercilessness as a motivation for Eucles’ prowess in running. While Eucles is naturally skilled as a runner, Hippias shows him over and over again that the consequence of failure is death, if not his own, then of those close to Eucles.
Infernari’s illustrations complement the tale nicely. While some might say that the pen and ink drawing feels unfinished, I feel that the sketchy style fits well with the historic plot, making the novel look almost like an old document.