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Heureka, by Hitoshi Iwaaki. Grade: B
The story revolves around the battle for Syracuse between the Carthaginian general Hannibal and Roman consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, at the center of which is the Spartan Damipos, his Roman girlfriend, Claudia, and Archimedes.
(Back cover, with the ship catcher claw.)
Damipos currently lives in Syracuse (which had been an independent kingdom in what's now Sicily), but he's something of a wanderer and is considering returning to Sparta. Claudia is from a Roman family that has settled in Syracuse, and this is where she's grown up. One day, Claudia takes Damipos to a remote northern sentry post that has long been abandoned, for a picnic. When they return home, they find that Epicudes, a Syracusan soldier working on behalf of Hannibal, has taken over the government (killing all of the statesmen in a quiet coup d'etate), and has had all of the Roman citizens rounded up and imprisoned. Claudia's remaining servant whisks her to the home of a family friend, the inventor and philosopher Archimedes. Damipos is amazed by the various inventions, and Archimedes takes him on as a student. The problem is that the old man is in his 70's, and his mind is slipping, so the lessons are slowed down by the need for constant naps.
Marcus sweeps down on Syracus with a fleet of ships, and for a short time things look a little grim. Then, various inhabitants start activating the "monsters" - huge machines that act like claws to sheer through the ships, and circular saw blades that cut the invaders in half. The final beast is a steam-powered pitching machine that spits boulders out from the city walls and punches holes in everything in their way. Epicudes visits Archimedes to congratulate him on saving the city, then recognizes Claudia as a Roman and has her imprisoned as well.
(A ship crusher.)
Damipos goes ballistic, and confronts Epicudes in front of the cheering people, demanding to have Claudia released. Epicudes agrees only if the boy can demonstrate himself as an equal. Damipos pleads with the townswomen to meet him on a hill outside the city, and to each bring a large mirror. That night, he works on building a circular mirror attached to a pole handle. The next morning, Damipos uses the mirror to reflect sunlight at the sail of one of the Roman ships, with the women aiming their own mirrors at the circle of light. This eventually causes the cloth to burn. As the sailors try to save their ship, Damipos moves to the next target. Epicudes gets jealous and very impatient, and grabs the circle mirror to try to roast Marcus from a distance. This fails when Marcus escapes below ship and the sky clouds up. The women are disgusted with their "leader-savior", and pressure him into releasing Claudia.
(The steam-powered boulder pitching machine.)
The girl returns to Archimedes' home only long enough to make preparations for slipping out of the city to return to her parent's homeland. Damipos tries to talk her out of it, but she's adamant. So, the two of them leave, taking a small boat out to sea. Unfortunately, they're spotted by city guards who unleash a volley of arrows at them as traitors. One arrow catches Claudia in the back. With no other choice, Damipos rows to the nearest Roman ship and demands she be treated by a doctor. As Claudia undergoes surgery, Marcus interrogates Damipos. The boy receives bad news - when the Romans fought Hannibal's forces, Claudia's family's village was wiped out, and all of her remaining relatives killed. A servant arrives to summon Damipos - the surgery failed and Claudia is dying. Damipos comes to her side, and she demands to know what the news is of her family's village. The boy lies and says everything turned out ok. Claudia sees through him, thanks him anyway and passes away.
(Syracuse spits out a few fast balls.)
Angry, Damipos tells Marcus of the abandoned watch tower at the north end of the city. The next day, the Romans finally succeed in getting past the walls and Syracuse falls immediately. Epicudes escapes in a small boat. Marcus dies in battle a few years later. Damipos returns to Sparta. Hannibal eventually dies as well. Archimedes, now senile, gets into an argument with a Roman soldier who was part of the crew looting his home, and is slain at age 75. None of which really matters, because after 2,000+ years, all of Syracuse had become forgotten ruins and everyone that had lived there is now long turned to dust.
(Marcus agrees to Damipos' demands that Archimedes and the other Syracusans be unharmed, in return for information on how to invade the city.)
Comments: Iwaaki's art style is still evolving in this story. The character designs are recognizably his, but they're pretty rough, and lack some of his trademark snark. The backgrounds and buildings are very good, and the story is interesting, although depressing at the end. His takes on Archimede's war machines are interesting, but I'm pretty sure that technology at the time wasn't quite advanced enough to forge the kind of claw depicted on the back cover. The hand-cranked circular saws are plausible, though. Overall, Heureka is a fast read, and recommended to anyone that likes Historie, or ancient Greek-Roman battles.