I loved Holt’s more fantasy works (especially under his KJ Parker pen-name), so was eager to try his pure historical fiction.
What to Expect
This is a story about the world Alexander the Great lived in (or left in ruins, depend on how you look at it), rather than about Alexander himself. It reads alomst like a love letter to ancient Greece itself — not to the grand art and philosphy, but to the daily life that supported it, in all its craziness and occasional ugliness. People being people, throughout the ages.
The story is told from (mostly) the point of view of Euxenus, a one-time tutor to Alexander. He’s a cynic (literally and figuratively, as a student of Diogenes), writing memoirs as an old man about his life, and about Alexander’s looming influence. A small part at the end is told from the view of Euxenus’ brother, an officer in Alexander’s army. Here, too, the focus is on army-life rather than wars.
What I liked
I loved the level of historical detail, the little things about how life really felt like in the 4th century BCE Greek world (which extended far beyond Greece). The narrative is in multiple layers, with Euxenus’ life both a way to describe events and people, but also the human experience and a certain constancy of it. He’s an interesting, mostly likeable character.
What to be aware of
This isn’t your usual grand adventure type novel about Alexander’s conquests. The man himself is not portrayed in a good light (and to be fair, his megalomania and detachment are probably close to the real person). The cynical old man tone might not appeal to many readers either.
Felix had no surprises that such men of world-conquering high stature are rotten bastards who’ve lost touch with reality. In his world, Alexander’s conquest are a mere century and a half earlier; he was intimately familiar with many of life’s little idiosyncrasies, and it confirms how his own Egretia (Rome) rose to prominence over the collapse of his empire.
It’s an interesting, though not always an easy read. Highly recommended if you’d like a different point of view about life in antiquity, about conquest and colonisation as well as philosophy and beekeeping.
Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Toags, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome. Come meet him on the free short stories or full novels!