Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's all ancient history ...

I finished Fire from Heaven about a week ago.  Then I went off course from my challenge, and read the second book of the trilogy, The Persian Boy.  When I spend some time reading about a particular era, or on a theme, often I'll keep going in the same vein.  So I did that this time, too.

Sunset at Persepolis.  Photo courtesy of Pourhassan, Alireza at the German language Wikipedia.

Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy are two very different books, particularly for being part of one trilogy.  Different points of view, wildly varying settings, the same characters were children, now men.  Alexander the Great from birth to death.

Fire from Heaven was difficult but rewarding.  Simply following the story was hard, I kept falling in and out of it.  But, within 50 pages of the end, the book sparkled.  You knew Alexander's father would die, and having it approach and then occur was both dreadful and spectacular.  The same was true of The Persian Boy, despite how differently the books are structured.  You know that Alexander dies but you resist it the entire book. Once Hephaistion begins to feel unwell, the downhill flow is inexorable.

Statue of Alexander, Istanbul Archaeological Museum
Photo from: user:Tkbwikmed / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

But the differences. Because The Persian Boy is told in first person, the plot is easier to follow.  The problem is the person.  Bagoas is sympathetic, but he comes to be a mechanism as much as a character.  He spends a quarter of his time explaining how he, however unlikely his presence, manages to witness the current dramatic moment.  Or telling us how he, who might as well be a professional foreshadower, wishes he fully realized the importance/significance/deeper meaning of whatever just happened. 

I think, in both books, the choppy flow is the result of being a fairly accurate representation of the historical record.  Real life mostly does not have a narrative flow to it.  It's only as the action reaches the climax, in both books, that the story grows wings.    

Of the two, I believe The Persian Boy is generally considered to be the finer book, but I will say that I enjoyed it a smidge less.  More food for thought in Fire from Heaven, but more emotional juggling in The Persian Boy.  How Renault manages an all-male love triangle (one solidly rooted in history) is impressive.  

The third book, Funeral Games, moves back to a third person POV and tells the story of Alexander's empire after his death.  I'm going to save this one for later.  I'm not in the mood to read about the vultures picking over the spoils, and I'm not sure how the trilogy can finish strongly with Alexander, the fire, snuffed.   

  Final call:
  Fire from Heaven

  The Persian Boy

Give the books a shot, but beware that the going isn't smooth.  In both, the portrayal of Alexander himself, and how he sees the world and how he's motivated, is outstanding and worth the read alone.  His relationship to his friends and his troops are icing on the cake.  The sheer energy of the man is mind boggling.  


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