The Alexander Trilogy

Fire From Heaven
The Persian Boy
Funeral Games

Mary Renault

Penguin 1970, Book Club Associates 1973, Penguin 1982
A book review by Danny Yee © 1993 http://dannyreviews.com/
Mary Renault's trilogy of novels about Alexander the Great (Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy and Funeral Games) is one of my favourite works of historical fiction. With a grand theme as her topic, one where the historical evidence is enough to inspire the imagination but not so voluminous as to inhibit creativity, Renault tells a compelling and moving story. Her reconstruction of history is plausible and learned, but she never lets her sources trap her — her world goes beyond the fragmentary records in its coherence and depth. And her characters are vivid and plausible, never modern people in costumes speaking strange languages.

Fire From Heaven is based on Alexander's life up to the age of twenty, when he assumed the kingship on his father Phillip's assassination. Trying to imagine the childhood of someone who was to develop into such an extraordinary person is not an easy task, but Renault does it brilliantly, weaving the thread of known anecdotes together with the skein of her own imagination. Alexander's mother's tumultuous relationship with his father, his training in philosophy under Aristotle, the development of his relationship with Hephaistion and his other companions, killing his first man at twelve, his meeting with Demosthenes — she has done such a good job that I have trouble remembering what is real and what is her invention.

The Persian Boy is the first person narrative of a young Persian eunuch who serves first Darius and then Alexander, and is a strong contrast to the first book. It tells the story of the climactic last seven years of Alexander's life, when he conquered Persia and advanced over the Indus before being stopped by the refusal of his troops to go any further. The tensions among the various people held together by the force of Alexander's personality are clearly shown, prefiguring the events that were to follow his death.

Funeral Games traces the events of the fifteen years following Alexander's death, as the empire he had built disintegrated. It is less personal and more of a historical and political drama than the first two novels. The scene shifts all over Greece and the Middle East, following the actions of the successors: the claimants to the Kingship (a posthumous child and a halfwit brother with his youthful but militant wife); the generals (and Alexander's mother) competing for power and the regency; and the provincial satraps seeking independence.

If you like historical fiction then you won't want to miss this trilogy.

February 1993

External links:
Fire From Heaven
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
The Persian Boy
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Funeral Games
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Related reviews:
- books by Mary Renault
- books about Greece + Greek history
- more historical fiction
%T Fire From Heaven
%Y The Alexander Trilogy
%A Renault, Mary
%I Penguin
%D 1970
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0140032223
%P 376pp

%T The Persian Boy
%Y The Alexander Trilogy
%A Renault, Mary
%I Book Club Associates
%D 1973
%O hardcover
%G ISBN 0394751019
%P 414pp

%T Funeral Games
%Y The Alexander Trilogy
%A Renault, Mary
%I Penguin
%D 1982
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0140062424
%P 278pp