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Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India and a new cosmopolitan model for western civilisation. In Alexander's childhood, his defiant character was molded into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son's loyalty, teac Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India and a new cosmopolitan model for western civilisation. In Alexander's childhood, his defiant character was molded into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son's loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion, on whom he depended for he rest of his life, taught him trust, whilst Aristotle's tutoring provoked his mind and Homer's Iliad fuelled his aspirations. He killed his first man in battle at the age of twelve and became the commander of Macedon's cavalry at eighteen - by the time his father was murdered and he acceded to the throne, Alexander's skills had grown to match his fiery ambition.


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Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India and a new cosmopolitan model for western civilisation. In Alexander's childhood, his defiant character was molded into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son's loyalty, teac Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India and a new cosmopolitan model for western civilisation. In Alexander's childhood, his defiant character was molded into the makings of a king. His mother, Olympias, and his father, King Philip of Macedon, fought each other for their son's loyalty, teaching Alexander politics and vengeance from the cradle. His love for the youth Hephaistion, on whom he depended for he rest of his life, taught him trust, whilst Aristotle's tutoring provoked his mind and Homer's Iliad fuelled his aspirations. He killed his first man in battle at the age of twelve and became the commander of Macedon's cavalry at eighteen - by the time his father was murdered and he acceded to the throne, Alexander's skills had grown to match his fiery ambition.

30 review for Fire from Heaven

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”He is like the great, the famous ones; like Lais or Rhodope or Theodotis they tell tales of in those old days. They don’t live for love, you know; but they live upon it. I can tell you, I have seen, they are the very blood of his body, all those men who he knows would run after him through fire. If ever the day comes when they will follow him no longer, it will be the same with him as with some great hetaira when they lovers leave her door and she puts away her mirror. He will begin to die.” ”He is like the great, the famous ones; like Lais or Rhodope or Theodotis they tell tales of in those old days. They don’t live for love, you know; but they live upon it. I can tell you, I have seen, they are the very blood of his body, all those men who he knows would run after him through fire. If ever the day comes when they will follow him no longer, it will be the same with him as with some great hetaira when they lovers leave her door and she puts away her mirror. He will begin to die.” Alexander is a boy, a long ways from the young man who will conquer the world in his twenties. He is the heir to the throne of Macedonia, but an uneasy heir. His father, Philip II, and his mother, Olympias, are constantly sparring for his soul. His father, busy with campaigns and running an empire, cannot devote as much time to influencing his son as his mother can. I actually found myself feeling sorry for Philip because, though he tries to make connections with his son, any progress he makes is quickly undone by one errant word or intercession by Olympias. I’ve never been through a divorce, but I’ve seen others go through the process where the children become part of a tug of war for dominance as each parent tries to sway their offspring to their side. Even though Philip didn’t divorce Olympias, he found her bed of ice unappealing and sought comfort in the arms of other women and acquired other wives. There is one scene where Alexander has given a girl named Gorgo some violets because he likes her, only to have his impressions of her dashed almost immediately. ”Silent and motionless, he stood in shadow. In the patch of light, the girl Gorgo faced towards him, wriggling and squirming in the arms of a man who stood behind him, one dark square hairy hand squeezing her groin and the other her breast. Breathless soft giggles stirred her throat. The dress slid off her shoulder under the working hand; a couple of dead violets fell out on the flagstones. The man’s face, muzzling for her ear, appeared from behind her head. It was his father’s.” Queue dramatic music. Philip II To his father, it is just a dalliance with an available young woman, which, frankly, in his position any woman is available to him. His power is immense and complete. To Alexander, Philip is betraying his mother any time he sleeps with anyone other than her, but he doesn’t really grasp the politics involved with Philip ever returning to Olympias’ bed. Philip prefers women, but that doesn’t mean he won’t bend a young lad over a handy table if he finds him handsome. In this time period, homosexuality is accepted as natural and not treated as an abomination, like it has been in more recent centuries. A man still has a responsibility to produce offspring, so even if he favors men, he has to occasionally use his imagination, blow the lamps out as it were, and impregnate a female. Alexander prefers the company of his best friend Hephaistion. This relationship will have a huge impact on his level of success and also be the catalyst for the end of his reign, but then that is a story for later in this trilogy. Now, Hephaistion is the voice of reason, the comforter, and the most ardent protector of a boy becoming a man while swimming the treacherous waters of his parent’s relationship. Hephaistion Alexander will be the philosopher king, and Aristotle puts in a few appearances in this novel. His influence will be felt more later in the story. I enjoyed this one scene involving his pupils and the things they would bring him from their explorations. ”The boys would ride out at cocklight, to go hunting before the day’s school began. They would set up their nets in the coverts, and get their buck or their hare. Under the trees the smells were dank and mossy; on the open slopes, spicy with crushed herbs. At sunup there would be smells of wood-smoke and roasted meat, horse-sweat on leather, dog-smells as the hounds came coaxing up for scraps. But if the quarry was rare or strange, they would go fasting home and save it for dissection. Aristotle had learned this skill from his father; it was the Asklepiad heritage. Even insects, they found, he did not disdain. Most of what they brought in he knew already; but now and then he would say sharply, ‘What’s this, what’s this?’ then get out his notes with their fine pen-drawings, and be in good humor for the day.” Aristotle Can you imagine the pride one would feel to bring Aristotle something he has never seen before? The great philosophers, the great leaders of history, are never satisfied with what they know. They are always driven by their own burning curiosity to know more. Aristotle instills that desire for knowledge in Alexander, and that characteristic makes him a better leader and a man more willing to embrace the differences that he encounters in other cultures, rather than rejecting those differences as non-Macedonian. Mary Renault does a wonderful job exploring the relationships between all of the characters. She introduces names, events, and regions with ease. The maps on the back of the boards of the book really helped me keep orientated as Philip and Alexander both campaigned to keep the peace. Her scholarship is superb. Much of what we know about Alexander was written long after his death, but the relationships between Philip, Olympias, and Alexander are well documented. Renault fills in the gaps and brings these characters and their turmoils to life. With Renault’s steady hand on the tiller, I look forward to navigating the rest of Alexander’s life and seeing him grow from the boy in waiting to the man of greatness. You can read my most recent book and movie reviews at http://www.jeffreykeeten.com Check out my Facebook bloggers page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    Agnieszka

    First part of Alexander The Great Trilogy. Beautifully written and very well reaserched. Everything we know about the great warrior and conquerer, and one of the greatest strategist in world history comes from later sources for any contemporary to him testimonies didn’t survive. We can derive knowlegde on Alexander from Plutarch mostly but Mary Renault mentions some other authors either. Fire from Heaven follows Alexander from his infancy to the day when after his father death he becomes a king. First part of Alexander The Great Trilogy. Beautifully written and very well reaserched. Everything we know about the great warrior and conquerer, and one of the greatest strategist in world history comes from later sources for any contemporary to him testimonies didn’t survive. We can derive knowlegde on Alexander from Plutarch mostly but Mary Renault mentions some other authors either. Fire from Heaven follows Alexander from his infancy to the day when after his father death he becomes a king. The author leads him from his mother’s chambers through study rooms to battlefield. She evokes image of a boy constantly weaving between possessive love of Olympias, his mother and rough treatment from his father, king Philip. We see Alexander tutored by Aristotle, we witness him killing his first man at the age of twelve. We get to know his friends and allies and like him we start to recognise all that string-pulling and behind the scene machinations. We can see the role of a woman in ancient world, and not very uplifting image it is indeed. On pages of the novel history just brings to life. Renault doesn’t give us mere facts or dull chronology known from school days. Under her pen protagonists seem to come alive, are flesh and blood, both in beauty and ugliness, sublime and mundane aspects. The author explores philosophical, social and military themes as nature of love as well. She gives a lot of space to friendship between Alexander and Hephaistion modeling it on the image of Achilles and Patroclus and creates beautiful portrait of devotion, deep understanding and long -lasting affection. Theory that Alexander had male lovers has still almost the same number of supporters as opponents. In antiquity however homoerotic love or bisexuality didn’t arise such controversy, contempt or hateful actions as it happens today. And Mary Renault pursues that thread with great care and subtlety. She rather implies than states nature of their attachment. At the stair-foot Hephaistion was waiting. He happened to be there, as he happened to have a ball handy if Alexander wanted a game, or water if he was thirsty; not by calculation, but in a constant awareness by which no smallest trifle was missed. Most facts evoked here were known to me already but I liked the way Renault wove this tale, how she bridged the gaps where no sources remained and how she conjured image of the boy who in the future was to conquer half of the ancient world.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Orey

    This is a masterpiece of historical fiction, weaving together a lot of subtle threads and viewpoints. I felt like i got to know this version of Alexander very personally, and I could feel some of his powerful, earned charisma. I appreciated the careful attention to his sexuality, dealing with Alexander's relationships and his own feelings about sex while at the same time balancing all of that with respect to the historical time period and what sexual and gender roles were possible at the time. T This is a masterpiece of historical fiction, weaving together a lot of subtle threads and viewpoints. I felt like i got to know this version of Alexander very personally, and I could feel some of his powerful, earned charisma. I appreciated the careful attention to his sexuality, dealing with Alexander's relationships and his own feelings about sex while at the same time balancing all of that with respect to the historical time period and what sexual and gender roles were possible at the time. That must have been so hard to pull off, even in 1969. Fantastic job. Renault is more direct here than in the Thesus books in her treatment of the ancient Greek patriarchy and the violence against women. Still, I could see how readers wanted more from that and how we ended up with great feminist retellings of Greek myths. Alexander's parents come off as real complicated pieces of work, pulling him in different directions with their machinations. Wow. There's a lot implied that Alexander's ambition is kind of a byproduct of getting messed up by these two charismatic monster parents, though even that is balanced by Alexander's own relationship to the Gods, especially his fascination with the tasks of Herakles. I thought there'd be more attention to his time with Aristotle, but I didn't exactly want more pedantic lessons. The last fourth or so of the book lost some steam for me as it moved away from the momentum of conquering and sunk into the dense politics before Alexander's ascension to the throne, but the book never lost me. I mostly had to slow down and accept that there were too many people, places, and moving parts to keep track of. There are a lot of things that will stick with me, but my favorite scene (minor spoiler) is when Alexander first enters Athens and observes this place that he grew up hearing so so much about, that meant so much to everyone around him. It was breathtaking. Very much looking forward to the next book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sarah (Presto agitato)

    Alexander the Great lived only thirty-two years (356 - 323 BC), but in that time he attained a stature unequaled in ancient history. Celebrated as one of the greatest generals of the ancient world, he expanded his kingdom of Macedon into a vast empire, throughout Greece and extending as far as Egypt and the Himalayas. Alexander was a legend in the minds of the Romans who came afterwards, nearly a mythical hero. Suetonius reports that the Emperor Augustus, who lived 300 years later, had Alexander Alexander the Great lived only thirty-two years (356 - 323 BC), but in that time he attained a stature unequaled in ancient history. Celebrated as one of the greatest generals of the ancient world, he expanded his kingdom of Macedon into a vast empire, throughout Greece and extending as far as Egypt and the Himalayas. Alexander was a legend in the minds of the Romans who came afterwards, nearly a mythical hero. Suetonius reports that the Emperor Augustus, who lived 300 years later, had Alexander’s sarcophagus removed from its mausoleum so he could show “veneration by crowning his head with a golden diadem and strewing flowers on the trunk.” (Suetonius The Twelve Caesars). In Gore Vidal’s novel Julian, the Emperor Julian dreams of being the first to surpass Alexander’s victories in Persia, since in the seven hundred years after Alexander’s reign, none of the great Roman generals had done so. Mary Renault begins her series of novels based on the life of this fabled character with Fire From Heaven. The novel covers the first twenty years of his life (view spoiler)[up to the assassination of his father, Phillip II of Macedon (hide spoiler)] . In the Author’s Note, Renault acknowledges that there are no contemporaneous sources for Alexander’s life, and for his boyhood, the only reference is Plutarch, who lived a few hundred years later. The lack of historical information presents an opportunity for a historical novelist to fill in the gaps, but with the challenge to do so plausibly. Renault succeeds in balancing the contradictions of a character who is believable as a future myth and legend, but also credible as a real person. Alexander the child, who is of course radiantly beautiful, hates having his golden hair combed and resents his little sister. As an eight-year old, though, he is quite willing to stick a dagger in a man who insults his mother, and kills his “first man” at the age of twelve. While a youth, he tames the untameable horse Bucephalus, a story which has become a legend in its own right. Alexander and Bucephalus (image source: Wikipedia) Phillip II and Olympia, Alexander’s parents, have a contentious relationship that disturbs their son greatly, setting the groundwork for near-Oedipal conflict later. Alexander’s incredibly close attachment to his cherished friend Hephaistion, a friendship that was to endure for their entire lives, is portrayed with subtlety. A sexual relationship is implied but not explicitly depicted. At times, the story suffers from clunky exposition. Characters engage in conversation about military and political events in a way that occasionally feels contrived. The readers need some necessary background, but the style in these sections is not as smooth and enjoyable as elsewhere. Overall, though, Fire From Heaven is engaging historical fiction, reminiscent of books like I, Claudius (though without Robert Graves’ snarky wit). The tone here is worthy of the classical subject but readable, bringing a mythical hero down to the level of a mortal, but one slightly less mortal than the rest of us. A copy of this book for review was provided by NetGalley and Open Road Media.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Terry

    There’s nothing quite like being able to visit another world, whether the new vistas be ones separated from us by time, space, or psychology and that is one of the great joys of reading, isn’t it? I’ve noted how historical fiction, like sci-fi or fantasy, takes this to an extreme by depositing us in a world for which our frames of reference are at best theoretical and we are uniquely at the mercy of the author for our ability to understand and appreciate what is going on around us. We need, on t There’s nothing quite like being able to visit another world, whether the new vistas be ones separated from us by time, space, or psychology and that is one of the great joys of reading, isn’t it? I’ve noted how historical fiction, like sci-fi or fantasy, takes this to an extreme by depositing us in a world for which our frames of reference are at best theoretical and we are uniquely at the mercy of the author for our ability to understand and appreciate what is going on around us. We need, on the one hand, to be able to relate to the human characters in the story and understand their experiences in a way that resonates with us, while at the same time we need to appreciate that it is a human experience viewed through a cultural lens whose expectations and assumptions are very different from our own. In my opinion Mary Renault excels at this. Renault’s greatest skill perhaps lies in her ability to paint an immersive and detailed picture of the world she is creating while still using fairly broad strokes. While I love the genre of historical fiction I have also noted that I often find myself disappointed in the examples I come across. I think that one of the reasons for this is that it seems to me that a lot of authors of historical fiction fall into the trap of over-explication and verbosity. As with some speculative fiction authors it can be far too tempting for the historical fiction author to want to lay all of their cards on the table: “Look at all of this wonderful research I did! Aren’t these details about the toiletries of the 18th century just fascinating? Isn’t this incredibly detailed description of the building I’m talking about based on the numerous pictures and architectural diagrams I’ve seen of the place just painting the most vivid picture? Isn’t the verisimilitude I am creating through this very wordy and extensive descriptive paragraph immersive?” Well no, not always is my response. Renault, however, is able to make me feel like I *am* immersed in the world of ancient Greece without filling up my brain with details and minutiae that tend more to distract from than to add to the verisimilitude. We are given only the details we need, generally filtered through the eyes of the characters who already understand their meaning, and are left to draw our own conclusions. We are given hints and allusions instead of explanations. We are permitted to experience the alien world into which she drops us without being told exactly what it is we are supposed to know or feel about it. I like that. In _Fire from Heaven_ we begin our journey with Alexander of Macedon (“the Great” to posterity) as he grows from the precocious child of a divided house until we reach the point at which he is on the threshold of his role as stupor mundi of the ancient world. Raised by a father who is equal parts proud and disdainful and a mother who is both fawning and manipulative, Alexander has his work cut out for him. Learning quickly that he must manoeuvre carefully between these two great poles of his life, Alexander makes his way through court intrigues, battlefields, and the training regimen of a noble scion in an attempt to find his own way. Renault does an excellent job with her characters, but I think she particularly excels with Alexander’s divided parents: Philip of Macedon and Olympias his queen. We first see the former in a rather unflattering light – a seemingly venal and power hungry warlord, eager to consolidate the gains he has made on the battlefield and impatient with the wilfulness and ambition of his wife who coddles his son and heir. Olympias herself at first appears to be something of a victim, though one who fights tooth and nail against every transgression (whether real or perceived), but it soon becomes apparent that things are not exactly as they seem. Throughout the story both Philip and Olympias become complex characters, by turns sympathetic and repulsive. Both of them are willing to use their son as a pawn in their game against each other and the world, though both still show the signs of human affection and weakness that make their actions understandable. Alexander himself is somewhat more of a cipher given his almost superhuman abilities and unerring confidence, but even he is given his human moments when we see the person beneath the legend. For the most part, though, we tend to see Alexander somewhat from the outside as those around him constantly gauge and interpret his actions in light of current events. For his part Philip is presented ultimately as a conflicted man: he is a conquering warlord, but his goal is the ultimate harmonious unification of Greece; he is a Macedonian ‘barbarian’ in love with the ideals of the Greek Hellenes; he is a hard master of men who still craves the love and affection of his extraordinary son. Olympias is a little simpler: a woman in a time when women were generally either victims or property (or both), she uses the typical tools of her sex to gain advantage where she can: sex as a weapon, political intrigue, and hints of witchcraft to push forward her own goals in despite of her husband and the patriarchal world in which she lives. Despite their importance both characters are still playing background roles to their extraordinary son. Shown from a young age to be precocious, he excels in all he attempts and is a constant wonder to his teachers and pedagogues (one of whom was the great philosopher Aristotle), taking from them what he feels to be of use and discarding the chaff. He quickly draws to himself like-minded youths who can’t help but admire the strength and confidence he displays, among whom is the apparent love of his life, his friend Hephaistion. Hephaistion has his work cut out for him as he makes it his goal to watch over his precocious friend and attempt to temper his fiery ambition with some common sense…suffice it to say he is not always successful. Ultimately we have in this volume of Renault’s Alexander trilogy the bildungsroman of an extraordinary person. The political, philosophical, and spiritual world of Classical Greece which shaped him is brought to vivid life with Renault’s trademark restraint and clarity just as she did for the Archaic period in her Theseus books. Indeed these books do well to be taken together as we once again follow the exploits of a protagonist of heroic stature who still manages to remain for us visibly human. As with the former series the supernatural world hovers on the edges of sight, informing character, actions, and events, though its veracity is never either simply confirmed or denied. If you enjoy historical fiction then you can’t choose a better guide to the ancient world than Mary Renault and I recommend this book to you (after you’ve devoured the Theseus books of course).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Crystal Starr Light

    Bullet Review: OMG I FINISHED IT!! After reading for nearly a quarter of a year, it's done!! This book was a very slow read for me. I'm not hugely familiar with Alexander the Great beyond the basics, and this certainly isn't your basic story. People who are familiar with Alexander and the ins and outs of his life (and the war time exploits of his father) will LOVE this. Writing style was also VERY difficult to adjust to. Everything is EXTREMELY subtle and layered - not your average Philipa Gregory Bullet Review: OMG I FINISHED IT!! After reading for nearly a quarter of a year, it's done!! This book was a very slow read for me. I'm not hugely familiar with Alexander the Great beyond the basics, and this certainly isn't your basic story. People who are familiar with Alexander and the ins and outs of his life (and the war time exploits of his father) will LOVE this. Writing style was also VERY difficult to adjust to. Everything is EXTREMELY subtle and layered - not your average Philipa Gregory or Dan Brown novel to be sure. Just as I "got it", I found my interest in the story waning (there's an incredible amount of discussion about the myriad of wars and political machinations of King Phillip) and I'd set the book aside for a month. It didn't help that there were SO MANY characters, many of whom appear then are never seen again. And I'm sorry, but at times, Alexander jumps off the Marty Stu cliff headfirst. That said, the last 100 pages, I just decided I was going to finish and "I got it". I also loved the dynamic between Alexander/Hephaistion. In the end, a good book that makes me painfully aware of how little I know about this era. Recommended if you like your novels a slow, subtle build and if you are an Alexander aficionado. I don't know if I can muster a full review. This book has worn me out.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Iset

    Where to begin in reviewing such a classic of historical fiction? I’ve read Mary Renault before – The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea; engrossing tales based on the legend of the Greek hero Theseus but grounded in a more historical, plausible world by Renault – but this was my first time reading Renault’s magnum opus. Fire From Heaven is the first book in a trilogy about Alexander the Great, and covers the conqueror’s life from childhood through to the moment he became king at the age of Where to begin in reviewing such a classic of historical fiction? I’ve read Mary Renault before – The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea; engrossing tales based on the legend of the Greek hero Theseus but grounded in a more historical, plausible world by Renault – but this was my first time reading Renault’s magnum opus. Fire From Heaven is the first book in a trilogy about Alexander the Great, and covers the conqueror’s life from childhood through to the moment he became king at the age of just 20 years old, and is far and away her best work. Frankly, it puts The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea in the shade. Renault has an innate sense of time and place, situating the story within its historical and cultural context with sublime skill and understanding. This is such a critical point in immersing the reader in the story. As some who loves both history and reading, it’s fair to say I actively seek out novels recreating the ancient past, and it’s equally fair to say that some of them disappoint the historian in me. I’ve read historical fiction where it’s obvious that the author has completely failed to understand the times he or she is writing about, failed to understand the culture, society, and thought of ancient peoples. For me it’s incredibly frustrating, not to mention jarring, when I want nothing more than to be immersed in ancient Rome or Egypt, only to find myself on a 21st century stage with unconvincing cardboard sets and characters spouting dialogue espousing 21st century values. It’s cringe-inducing. Thank goodness for wonderful writers like Mary Renault. A rarefied few, and I happily count Renault among their number, seem to have genuinely researched the period they’re writing about and succeeded in getting inside their characters’ heads – not to mention, skilfully conveyed this on the page, another challenge entirely. It’s a vicarious experience for a historian – just about the closest to time travel we’ll ever get – and I’m pleased to say Fire From Heaven swept me away to ancient Macedon. Characterisations are rendered not only deftly but with astonishing vividness and humanity. Renault clearly had a talent for understanding the human condition, and how to make her characters breathe with believable warmth, spirit, and life. It’s easy to forget that the Alexander presented here is a product of Renault’s imagination. His subtle and complex characterisation gives a stamp of authenticity that adds tremendously to the quality of the story. If I can believe a character could exist in real life as an actual human being, my immersion in the tale and my empathy for those characters is exponentially increased. Often, the books I most frequently DNF are those populated by implausible, two-dimensional characters, existing in an inauthentic, fake setting. “It’s only fiction” is quite the rallying cry amongst historical fiction debates – but, for me, it’s got to be believable fiction. Renault actually makes a decision in Fire From Heaven that tweaked my historian’s accuracy radar: in the story Ptolemy is Alexander’s bastard half-brother. As a Ptolemaic enthusiast I’ve got to acknowledge that, on balance of the evidence, it seems extremely unlikely to have actually been the case. But that didn’t keep me from enjoying the book. It’s a minor alteration that ultimately doesn’t affect the plot, and it’s slipped in to a world that is otherwise highly researched and feels real, not just in the facts but in the humanity of the people. The critical factor is not the accuracy, but the believability, and this is something that Renault was a master at creating. Moreover, she doesn’t shy away from allowing the book to have a complex plot, allowing the characters to be complex, contradictory, unexpected human beings – unlike the oversimplified, dumbed down, liquidised historical fiction that some popular authors prefer to spoon feed their readership – and this is why Fire From Heaven succeeds as a novel, and does so spectacularly. 10 out of 10

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    This is the first of Mary Renault’s trilogy about Alexander the Great. It covers the period up to his father Philip’s death when Alexander is in his late teens. Renault’s sources are the usual ones (Plutarch and co) and she then adds to the bare historical bones. She takes part of the mythology and uses it for her narrative purposes adopting a third person omniscient narration. Renault does not shy away from Alexander’s sexuality and clearly portrays him as bisexual, which the historical records This is the first of Mary Renault’s trilogy about Alexander the Great. It covers the period up to his father Philip’s death when Alexander is in his late teens. Renault’s sources are the usual ones (Plutarch and co) and she then adds to the bare historical bones. She takes part of the mythology and uses it for her narrative purposes adopting a third person omniscient narration. Renault does not shy away from Alexander’s sexuality and clearly portrays him as bisexual, which the historical records indicate he probably was. The relationship with Hephaistion is central to the book and the strength and depth of their relationship is important to Alexander. Hephaistion understands his role in supporting Alexander: “You’re with me,’ Hephaistion said. ‘I love you. You mean more to me than anything. I’d die for you any time. I love you.” In parallel with this Renault, at least in this novel, implies that sex itself wasn’t that important to Alexander: “He’s as chaste as Artemis; or nearly” “One might have supposed that the true act of love was to lie together and talk.” Renault draws the comparison with the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus and Alexander is very conscious of this. Parts of Alexander’s character also feel quite modern: consider this exchange with his younger sister towards the end of the book as she discovers she is to marry her uncle: “He crossed over and drew her against his shoulder. He had scarcely embraced her since their childhood, and now it was in Melissa’s arms that she had wept. ‘I am sorry. You need not be frightened. He’s not a bad man, he has no name for being cruel. The people like him. And you’ll not be too far away.’ She thought, You took for granted you’d choose the best; when you chose, you had only to lift your finger. When they find you a wife, you can go to her if you choose, or stay away with your lover. But I must be grateful that this old man, my mother’s brother, has no name for being cruel. All she said was, 'The gods are unjust to women.’ 'Yes, I have often thought so. But the gods are just, so it must be the fault of men.” Renault seems to want to make Alexander a benevolent and consistent tyrant. The historian in me doesn’t approve at all. However for novelistic purposes it works overall and I’m glad that Renault does not shy away from the question of sexuality. The characterisation and the portrayal of Alexander’s context are both strong. The descriptive passages have bothered some readers because it means the novel doesn’t flow so well, but Renault isn’t writing an action novel! This passage comes from Alexander’s boyhood: “The mild summer day declined to evening. On the salt lake of Pella fell the shadow of its island fort, where the treasury and the dungeons were. Lamps glimmered in windows up and down the town; a household slave came out with a resined torch, to kindle the great cressets upheld by seated lions at the foot of the Palace steps. The lowing of homebound cattle sounded in the plains; in the mountains, which turned towards Pella their shadowed eastern faces, far-distant watch fires sparked the grey. The boy sat on the Palace roof, looking down at the town, the lagoon, and the little fisher-boats making for their moorings. It was his bedtime, and he was keeping out of his nurse's way till he had seen his mother, who might give him leave to stay up. Men mending the roof had gone home, without removing their ladders. It was a chance not to be wasted. He sat on the tiles of Pentelic marble, shipped in by King Archelaos; the gutter under his thighs, between his knees an antefix in the shape of a gorgon's head, the paint faded by weather. Grasping the snaky hair, he was outstaring the long drop, defying its earth-daimons. Going back he would have to to look down; they must be settled with beforehand. Soon they gave in, as such creatures did when challenged. He ate the stale bread he had stolen instead of supper. It would have been hot posset, flavored with honey and wine; the smell had been tempting, but at supper one was caught for bed. Nothing could be had for nothing. A bleat sounded from below. They had brought the black goat, it must be nearly time. Better now not to ask beforehand. Once he was there, she would not send him away. He picked his way down the long spaces of the ladder-rungs made for men. The beaten earth-daimons kept their distance; he sang himself a song of victory. From the lower roof to the ground; no one was there but a few tired slaves going off duty. Indoors Hellanike would be searching; he must go around outside. He was getting too much for her; he had heard his mother say so” There is much more like this. I’m glad I read this and I like the understated way that Renault gets her points across. One interesting aside; Oliver Stone’s film is very much based on Renault’s trilogy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    Part 1 of Mary Renault's Alexander the Great trilogy. I'll write more tomorrow, but for now it reminded me of Robert Graves mixed with a bit of Patricia Highsmith's penchant for psychological tension. Renault isn't trying to give some accurate account of Alexander the Great, only use the template of Alexander to paint her ideas of Hubris upon. So many great characters in the books and the prose was fantastic. I'm giving it only 4 stars right now, because it is only my 2nd Mary Renault novel and Part 1 of Mary Renault's Alexander the Great trilogy. I'll write more tomorrow, but for now it reminded me of Robert Graves mixed with a bit of Patricia Highsmith's penchant for psychological tension. Renault isn't trying to give some accurate account of Alexander the Great, only use the template of Alexander to paint her ideas of Hubris upon. So many great characters in the books and the prose was fantastic. I'm giving it only 4 stars right now, because it is only my 2nd Mary Renault novel and I don't want to presume to know her peak.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    When I picked up this book what I was looking for was an understanding of Alexander the Great's personality. It covers the first 19 years of his life. He died at the age of 33, living from 356BC to 323BC. What I learned was that he was continually torn between his two parents. He loved them both, but they continually bickered. He was a pawn between them. The book concludes with the assassination of his father, which I found difficult to follow. It was confusing. It is very hard listening to an a When I picked up this book what I was looking for was an understanding of Alexander the Great's personality. It covers the first 19 years of his life. He died at the age of 33, living from 356BC to 323BC. What I learned was that he was continually torn between his two parents. He loved them both, but they continually bickered. He was a pawn between them. The book concludes with the assassination of his father, which I found difficult to follow. It was confusing. It is very hard listening to an audiobook where so many names are difficult to recognize. While it is clearly stated who the assassin was, who lay behind the assassination is much less clear and may be debated. I also had difficulty with the battles between the different kingdoms. I couldn't keep them all straight. A PDF file with maps would have helped tremendously. I would have liked more about the cultural differences between the battling opponents. I saw Alexander through what he did, through the choices he made. He was brutal, but could also show understanding and forgiveness. I loved learning how he tamed his horse, Oxhead. This showed another side of his personality. I also enjoyed the description of the Dionysia celebrations, in honor of the god Dionysus. I would have liked more details about other ancient Greek festivities. The writing is, excluding the battle scenes, lyrical in tone. Pretty. It reads at times almost like a song, with the air of a myth. While I did learn what Alexander did, I cannot say I fully understand how he came to achieve such magnificence, such power. What made him into the exceptional person he became remains a bit of a mystery to me. The audiobook narration by Roger May was very, very good. Perfect intonations for different sorts of people. Easy to follow and read at a good pace.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ozymandias

    Mary Renault loves Alexander. I do not. He was a short-tempered, egotistical (albeit charming, generous and glamorous) tyrant less interested in ruling well than in endless glorious conquests. For preternaturally young conquerors I’ll take Augustus over Alexander any day. As such I wondered how much I would appreciate her rosy portrait of a flawless Alexander. A great deal as it turns out. This is Alexander as he should have been: proud, loyal, compassionate, fiercely intelligent, curious, idealis Mary Renault loves Alexander. I do not. He was a short-tempered, egotistical (albeit charming, generous and glamorous) tyrant less interested in ruling well than in endless glorious conquests. For preternaturally young conquerors I’ll take Augustus over Alexander any day. As such I wondered how much I would appreciate her rosy portrait of a flawless Alexander. A great deal as it turns out. This is Alexander as he should have been: proud, loyal, compassionate, fiercely intelligent, curious, idealistic, honorable, romantic... This is the Alexander of legend. The one who believes in the brotherhood of man. The one who is on top because he is better than his peers. Who is loved less for his triumphs than his good nature. Who responds to philosophy and wisdom with all his heart. Who will do anything for a friend. Anything. How can you not love such a king? My God, I wish Alexander were like that. And for the duration of this book I believed it. This book is about Alexander’s growth to manhood. As such it contains few of the incidents he’s known for. The conquest of Persia all the way through to India will have to wait for her next book, The Persian Boy. What we get instead is a coming-of-age novel focused around the future conqueror of the known world. As a character study the book is excellent. We get well-drawn pictures of Alexander and his immediate family as well as rougher sketches of some of his friends and enemies. Alexander’s developing mindset is realistic and at all points his voice sounds believable for one of his age. Alexander’s somewhat fractured psyche and need to excel at all things is drawn from having his parents as angel and demon on his shoulders egging him on. And demon’s a role they take turns playing in their efforts to use him to punish the other. The majority of the book takes place when Alexander’s in his mid-teens. This was the point when he was starting to come into his inheritance and really make a name for himself so its only natural. Before this, the book is very episodic. The most memorable incidents from his early childhood are recounted as we slowly work towards his majority. These, for me, were some of the best parts as we get to see how greatly his perspective of his parents changes over the course of time. I found the division of chapters odd. Alex’s teenage years start on chapter five (of eight) yet this is only about a third of the way into the book. The later chapters are about twice as long as the earlier ones, which makes planning sleep breaks around chapters difficult. It’s a shame too, because starting with the arrival of Aristotle we start to move into areas where Alex is an actor rather than reactor to events. I’d say this book is generally a good choice for a young adult audience. The book does contain some violence and sexual scenes (though nothing shocking by today’s standards) as well as *gasp* a gay romance! That latter was actually pretty shocking for a ‘60s audience and you can tell by how filtered down the love scenes are. The single scene where you get more than allusions to the act is the lone heterosexual one. Hephaestion and Alexander make a pretty charming couple though and their devotion to each other is genuinely touching. These two are perfect for each other: the lovestruck boy who’d subsume his own ambitions for his true friend and the dreamer who loves and trusts him. It comes across as very wholesome, though I’m sure at the time it was considered subversive. I’m kind of amazed how much of Oliver Stone’s Alexander was cribbed from this book. Hephaestion and Alex hooking up? That’s here, although it‘s open about it instead of offering confusing hints. The scene with Olympias and young Alex in bed with her snakes as Philip barges in demanding sex? Also here. And far too specific to be anything but a direct copy. And countless other scenes, though borrowed from Plutarch or others, are adapted in a very similar way to Renault’s presentation. Even the bits it skips (roughly everything from the death of Philip to the battle of Gaugamela) is the same. The difference is that the scenes work here when they don’t always there. I found this book charming and enjoyable. It gives us some wonderful portraits of Alexander and his family and a realistic-feeling glimpse of life in 4th-century BC Macedon. Those who want to understand my objections to Renault’s rosy view of Alexander should check out Peter Green’s Alexander of Macedon. An excellent biography. And while it errs on the negative side, it’s about as objective as one can be with a divisive figure like Alexander the Great. If you prefer utterly partisan accounts try comparing Ian Worthington’s Alexander the Great: Man and God with Renault’s own The Nature of Alexander. The truth definitely lies somewhere in between because there’s nothing outside them! Except maybe aliens.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Whitaker

    What I have found striking about Mary Renault's trilogy about Alexander the Great is how much it captures that story through the voices of outsiders, persons marginalised not just in his day but in ours. It is only the first novel, Fire from Heaven, that presents Alexander's viewpoint, albeit interleafed with the viewpoint of Hephaistion. It is also the novel for which history has the least amount of direct material, and a child -- albeit a child who will become a legend -- is also a person whos What I have found striking about Mary Renault's trilogy about Alexander the Great is how much it captures that story through the voices of outsiders, persons marginalised not just in his day but in ours. It is only the first novel, Fire from Heaven, that presents Alexander's viewpoint, albeit interleafed with the viewpoint of Hephaistion. It is also the novel for which history has the least amount of direct material, and a child -- albeit a child who will become a legend -- is also a person whose voice is not heard. The Persian Boy, the longest entry in the trilogy, is probably the most well known for telling Alexander's story through the eyes of Bagos, his male concubine eunuch lover. But even in the last novel, Funeral Games, Mary Renault does not focus on the male warriors who sought to claim his empire, but the women who sought to carve out their own place from the remains of his legacy. It is easy to imagine a novel of Alexander wholly focused on him, his masculinity and his wars. Many works have followed this route. Mary Renault makes a much more interesting choice, where the history of this man, this legendary conqueror, is refracted through the voices of persons cast aside by history. It is a choice that casts subtler and more interesting shadows on his story, with the echoes of his time both more human and nuanced than the traditional warrior-king take.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Alright...I had this at 4 stars last night when I finished it, but the more I think about it, I have no reason not to give it 5, so I changed it. I don't want to be stingy for no good reason. Basically, I loved everything about this book except how long it took me to read it, which is not the book's fault, it's my own. I read The Persian Boy first (even though it's the second in the series) so I had already grown fond of many of the characters. In this book, my fondness changed to love, adoration Alright...I had this at 4 stars last night when I finished it, but the more I think about it, I have no reason not to give it 5, so I changed it. I don't want to be stingy for no good reason. Basically, I loved everything about this book except how long it took me to read it, which is not the book's fault, it's my own. I read The Persian Boy first (even though it's the second in the series) so I had already grown fond of many of the characters. In this book, my fondness changed to love, adoration, admiration, all of the above. I LOVE Alexander. He's just such a stand-up guy, in basically all aspects of his life. Not that he doesn't make mistakes and stuff, but he owns them, admits to them, works through them. I also really like that he's a lover AND a fighter, not just one or the other. That's a characteristic that not too many people can accomplish with success, but I think he does. I felt strong emotions for him while reading this book. I felt very sad for him in regards to his relationships with his parents, which are no fault of his own. As I said to Christin while reading this, it's no wonder he preferred the company of men because his father teaches him to hate women, and his mother is the first helicopter mom in history. Give the kid a break, already! He has done nothing but try to please you both, and you both just crap on him for your own benefit, and use him against each other. He's perpetually stuck in the middle of them. Somehow, he still manages to turn into a good person, which is lucky for us. Next, I just have to talk about Hephaistion because I'm basically obsessed with him. I can't help it. I love him so much, I can't even describe it. He is so faithfully devoted to Alexander, loves him with all his heart, and it's just SO SWEET. But better yet, even though he so clearly feels that way, he somehow manages not to let it blind him in a way that could become damaging to Alexander. For instance, he would never tell Alexander something he wanted to hear, simply to please him. It's not in him. He will give his true opinion, and let Alexander decide whether or not he agrees. The only way I can describe their relationship is that they are two pieces of a whole. They belong together, side by side, and they compliment each other. Their bond is something most people will never experience in their lifetime. It's just beautiful. The timeline of events is just as much a part of this book as the detailing of the relationships of the characters. It was nice to get a broad overview of the significant things that happened in Alexander's life, and just as in The Persian Boy, it is done without feeling like a textbook history lesson, which is wonderful. The history is certainly important, but what sucks me in is the characters and their relationships. I can't get enough of it. Who knew I was secretly harboring a love for historical fiction? Not me.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alicja

    rating: 5/5 Alexander the Great is known as the man who conquered the biggest empire of the ancient world, his battle strategies are still being studied in military schools today, some 2300 years after his death. But what made the man who he was? Renault’s first book of the Alexander trilogy follows him from about the age of three until his father’s murder, his life as told from the eyes of his family, friends, lovers, tutors, enemies, fellow soldiers and others who shaped his life. Renault uses rating: 5/5 Alexander the Great is known as the man who conquered the biggest empire of the ancient world, his battle strategies are still being studied in military schools today, some 2300 years after his death. But what made the man who he was? Renault’s first book of the Alexander trilogy follows him from about the age of three until his father’s murder, his life as told from the eyes of his family, friends, lovers, tutors, enemies, fellow soldiers and others who shaped his life. Renault uses historical records of Alexander the Great’s life (youth) and embellishes them with a brilliant tale tying these real glimpses of an extraordinary life into a complete tale of what could have been. I read the second book, the Persian Boy, first. This book differs in that it is told from many points of view which don’t just show us Alexander but paint a picture of the politics and culture around him. Her descriptions of the ancient world are just as stunning and place the reader right in the middle of the action. Her words are beautiful, almost poetic, making the ancient world come alive. Born of Olympias and King Philip (or Zeus as the legends and Olympias herald), Alexander was born into a household filled with drama; right into the hatred between Olympias and Philip, Philip’s lovers and other wives (and children), and friends and enemies (and sometimes both). Taught by the famous Aristotle, born to battle Alexander’s development is wonderfully chronicled. I may love Bagoas, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love Hephaestion either (or I mean Renault’s characterization of them both). The love between Alexander and Hephaestion is presented beautifully (paralleled against Achilles and Patroclus) and shows the impact that it’s had on Alexander’s life. But my favorite love story is that between Alexander and Bucephalus (Oxhead). Renault presents them as one of a kind, with a spirit that is greater than any other. I even cried during the scene where Alexander and Oxhead first bonded. Alexander’s life and destiny is crafted carefully without leaving a prophecy, legend, or symbol unturned (just like the ancient Greeks would have done it). Renault shows brilliantly how his personality and temperament collided with outside forces in his youth to create the man who became a legend lasting through thousands of years.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jen Medos

    This was hands down the worst book I've ever read. So confusing! The author doesn't seem to know the English language. Was there no editor on this project?! I would like a refund and the time I spent on this crappy read back please. This was hands down the worst book I've ever read. So confusing! The author doesn't seem to know the English language. Was there no editor on this project?! I would like a refund and the time I spent on this crappy read back please.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    3.5 stars RTC

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ariana Fae

    Mary Renault draws you into Ancient Greece showing us its rich history and Alexander’s world. I enjoyed how she depicted the characters and Alexander’s relationships with each of them: how he is torn between his parents-wanting to please them both, to his friendship and love with Hephaistion. Renault did a great job of showing us how the characters felt and thought throughout the book. The pacing does suffer in the book with the author switching from different characters’, especially the minor c Mary Renault draws you into Ancient Greece showing us its rich history and Alexander’s world. I enjoyed how she depicted the characters and Alexander’s relationships with each of them: how he is torn between his parents-wanting to please them both, to his friendship and love with Hephaistion. Renault did a great job of showing us how the characters felt and thought throughout the book. The pacing does suffer in the book with the author switching from different characters’, especially the minor characters, point of view unexpectedly. I felt it took focus away from the main characters, especially Alexander. Also at times the story was bogged down with too many details of the period and the intricacies of war. You can see Renault’s admiration with Alexander and how it shines through out the book. She almost makes him too perfect at times, almost god like but then it’s hard not to admire a historical figure like him. Fire From Heaven is a thoroughly researched book that gives a fascinating portrayal of Alexander's youth. It caught my attention enough to continue with the Persian Boy.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

    The novel is absolutely AMAZINGLY written, and I’m not even half way done withthe first volume and already I’m dreading the end of the entire trilogy. I can see what my friend Jesi was talking about when she said that this is the book that makes you fall in love with Alexander. And not in that ‘we love him because he was part of history’ way but love as in an overwhelming attachment to what happens to him. And even though Renault makes it fairly clear from the get-go that she’s part of the whole The novel is absolutely AMAZINGLY written, and I’m not even half way done withthe first volume and already I’m dreading the end of the entire trilogy. I can see what my friend Jesi was talking about when she said that this is the book that makes you fall in love with Alexander. And not in that ‘we love him because he was part of history’ way but love as in an overwhelming attachment to what happens to him. And even though Renault makes it fairly clear from the get-go that she’s part of the whole ‘Alexander liked boys’ philosophy, he is still possibly one of the most attractive literary creations of the actual man that I’ve ever read. I think part of my love for this book stems from a childhood fascination with everything Greek, and in that light it doesn’t disappoint. The book speaks of Alexander’s witch-mother Olympias, who is described as being absolutely beautiful, but complete terrifying in that beauty. She is constant defiance of her husband, King Phillip II of Macedon, who is also described as an almost tyrranical leader, and the two seem to be waging almost silent but constant war over how to raise Alexander. Even with this tension in the background, the book outlies the many ways in which Alexander becomes known as the King of Asia, and one of the greatest Greek kings. He kills his first man in hand-on-hand combat at age 12, years before even his father had, and he is placed under the tutelage of Aristotle in his early teens, which is when he also forms a solid friendship with Hephaistion, the young son of an underlord, who participates in Alexander’s education with him. This is as far as I’ve gotten in the book, and it’s heartbreaking – the passages where Hephaistion describes his budding (non-friendly) love for Alexander, with the knowledge that taking a bed-boy may be common practice, but love between men seldom was, are enough to bring you to tears. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the book, however, is that it immediately takes you to ancient Greece, envelops you in the world that existed there. It doesn’t necessarily matter that my Greek political/military history is pretty much non-existent, or that the names are pretty much totally confusing (a problem I also, funnily enough, had with Tolstoy), it speaks to the power of the book that I am able to open its pages and forget that I’m riding a smelly old bus to campus to take a test I haven’t studied for – I become a member of Philip’s court, watching this beautiful, strong, headstrong and talented boy grow up in to what will be (with the beauty of hindsight) an absolutely legendary military leader! I can’t say enough for the book – literally, I’m out of time at the work computer – but please, please, PLEASE read it

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Wonderful book. Am completely in love with Alexander of Macedon but like his mythical hero Achilles he is doomed to die young. His adult years are spent fighting and capturing Egypt,Turkey, present day Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan even parts of India. This book covers his youth and early adulthood to his accession at age 20. Well researched, the book focuses on his relationships and what he learns from his parents - the lessons on statehood and military tactics from his father and wild di Wonderful book. Am completely in love with Alexander of Macedon but like his mythical hero Achilles he is doomed to die young. His adult years are spent fighting and capturing Egypt,Turkey, present day Middle East, Central Asia, Pakistan even parts of India. This book covers his youth and early adulthood to his accession at age 20. Well researched, the book focuses on his relationships and what he learns from his parents - the lessons on statehood and military tactics from his father and wild dionysiac revels of his mother. He is left in a constant state of uncertainty about his parentage. He doesn't know whether Philip of Macedon is his father and whether he is the heir, and is ashamed and angry at his father's sexual excess and threats to disinherit him. There is much enjoyable detail about his education with Aristotle, together with his "Companions". Alexander's relationships with his Companions are key. These are his future generals and heirs to his kingdom after his early demise. Above all, this part of the Alexandriad covers the development of his close emotional relationship with Hephaistion who will become his lifelong companion, despite other lovers and wives. By the end of the book Alexander is already a successful and gifted military leader but his relationship with his father over the inheritance has deteriorated to the point where Alexander is exiled. They are reconciled but Alexander no longer trusts his father who despite his fondness for Alexander, his obvious heir, continues to try and create or find alternative heirs. Alexander and his Companions form a court within a court. The tension rises in the final chapters. The brilliant final scene in the book covers the assassination of Philip during the wedding of his daughter (Alexander's sister) with her uncle (yet another ruse to disherit Alexander). The tension and sense of foreboding are palpable. As Alexander takes control, we are left wondering who ordered the assassination and whether his mother Olympias or even Alexander himself were implicated.

  20. 5 out of 5

    LeAnn

    Mary Renault did a good job of bringing ancient Macedonia and Alexander the Great's world to life. I found Alexander a bit opaque, however, and many times her use of personal pronouns was hard to decipher (i.e., I couldn't tell who the pronouns referred back to). I also found the explanation of the ancient Greek/Macedonian viewpoint of erotic love and friendship a bit unclear. Renault has Alexander enter into a homosexual relationship with his best friend Hephaestion, who is pretty straightforwa Mary Renault did a good job of bringing ancient Macedonia and Alexander the Great's world to life. I found Alexander a bit opaque, however, and many times her use of personal pronouns was hard to decipher (i.e., I couldn't tell who the pronouns referred back to). I also found the explanation of the ancient Greek/Macedonian viewpoint of erotic love and friendship a bit unclear. Renault has Alexander enter into a homosexual relationship with his best friend Hephaestion, who is pretty straightforwardly in love with Alexander. Alexander, however, is rather sexually aloof and chooses to give Hephaestion what Hephaestion wants rather than obviously returning Hephaestion's erotic love. Alexander finds his father's sexual habits despicable, not because Philip sleeps with members of both sexes, but because he is indiscreet, indiscriminate, and hurtful to Alexander's mother, Olympias. Olympias scorns Philip's "minions" (male lovers); Demosthenes, who would be termed a pedophile in modern lingo, comes across as less-than-admirable in his sexual tastes; and Aristotle, if I understood correctly, didn't support the sexual aspects of manly friendship, although he accepted his pupils' relationship after the fact. So, I couldn't quite wrap my head around what the people of that day thought about homosexual relationships. Renault did a good job of showing Alexander as a product of both his parents. He had his father's military brilliance and rational mind, but it was combined with his mother's superstitions about the gods. This religious aspect to Alexander's character cannot be overlooked or overstated. He really believed that he'd been blessed by Hercules and had a god-driven destiny. In other ways, Alexander was clearly a man ahead of his time, and Renault shows this in one scene with a terrified girl that his mother has left in his room to ensure that Alexander can perform with a woman.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Nuno R.

    Even if this is the first of the trilogy, I read it after The Persian Boy, which comes after this. And it still made a lot of sense. Mary Renault is a genius and here started my appreciation of historic novels (which is a genre I still know little about).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jim Grimsley

    When I started this book I was sixteen or seventeen, had checked it out from our high school library, and read it with interest because I was already enamored of the Greeks and armies marching here and there, the conquest of Persia; it was a cousin to fantasy, which I was also reading at the time. The early life of Alexander was engaging and clear; I was enjoying Mary Renault's prose, which I could recognize as better writing than I was used to in my science fiction favorites. Then came the entr When I started this book I was sixteen or seventeen, had checked it out from our high school library, and read it with interest because I was already enamored of the Greeks and armies marching here and there, the conquest of Persia; it was a cousin to fantasy, which I was also reading at the time. The early life of Alexander was engaging and clear; I was enjoying Mary Renault's prose, which I could recognize as better writing than I was used to in my science fiction favorites. Then came the entry into the book of Hephaistion and his love of Alexander, when they were schoolboys being tutored by Aristotle. I was absolutely struck dumb by the fact that two boys were in a book in love with each other. I had never read anything like that and had figured out that my own feelings were supposed to be hidden and not shared with anybody. The story was transporting even without the addition of this element, but the fact that I could identify with the book so closely made an impression that was thrilling. I have read the book several times over the years, not nearly as many times as I read its sequel, The Persian Boy. Renault is an extraordinary writer who found in this material something that touched the best writer she could be. Of all the historical writers I've read, I love her best.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tocotin

    I have a weird feeling towards Mary Renault. I’d rather not support her, because she’s horribly misogynistic, but on the other hand she’s a queer woman and her misogyny might not be entirely her fault; I can understand that she might have been conflicted. And then there’s the sheer entertaining value of her books. They’re interesting, they’re well-written, and they’re full of passion. Can’t resist that. The Persian Boy (which is not without its flaws) is one of my favorite books. Fire from Heaven I have a weird feeling towards Mary Renault. I’d rather not support her, because she’s horribly misogynistic, but on the other hand she’s a queer woman and her misogyny might not be entirely her fault; I can understand that she might have been conflicted. And then there’s the sheer entertaining value of her books. They’re interesting, they’re well-written, and they’re full of passion. Can’t resist that. The Persian Boy (which is not without its flaws) is one of my favorite books. Fire from Heaven was also very very good, difficult to put down, but it doesn’t, for me, qualify for re-reading. I’m not sure why, maybe the relentless worship of masculinity in everything? Maybe the one-sided obsession with fighting, raping and killing? By the way, it was interesting to see the sympathy and understanding in the treatment of Pausanias, opposed to the casual dismissal of the suffering of women (“oh, too bad, this is war, men will be men, y’know”). Apart from the wild, powerful and of course EVIL Olympias, women just exist somewhere on the fringes of Alexander’s (and Renault’s) world. The author’s discomfiture with having to deal with them – sometimes it’s just damn bloody necessary – is obvious. She puts them down whenever possible; being a woman is a curse, being a man is a sacrament. “And at the best, he thought; at the best? The loom, the bed, the cradle; children, the decking of bride-beds, clacking talk at the hearth and the village well; bitter old age, and death. Never the beautiful ardour, the wedded bond of honour, the fire from heaven blazing on the altar where fear was killed.” Mary Renault, you coward, liar and traitor. Like fear was ever killed. Especially when all those beautiful men were lying in their own shit, entangled in their own intestines on the battlefield. This is what the decking of bride-beds was for: never-ending destruction resulting in a few statues with knocked-off noses. I don’t know, maybe I should show some genuine compassion in exchange for her false one. In another place, she murmurs nervously through her hero: “Women can’t issue challenges to their enemies, as we can; they can only be avenged like women. Rather than blame them, we ought to be thankful to the gods for making us men.” Gods!… One of the best things about this book is the way it depicts the contemporary attitudes towards religion as well as the rituals and rites. This stuff is downright chilling and extremely interesting. Myths and beliefs are never apart from the lives of these characters; they are shaped by bloodthirsty, demanding, unforgiving gods as much as by stern philosophers. The talkative philosophers are actually dwarfed by the silent gods. What else?… In all honesty, this book IS on a certain level. It’s morbid and humorless, and the misogyny is turned up to eleven not exactly because the period demands it, but at the same time it’s so well-written, believable, and engrossing that the author being a rabid fangirl – or fanboy – of Alexander the Superhero doesn’t really spoil the book. Sometimes it’s reassuring, because you know that Alexander will come and set things right and say something Noble and Uplifting, and that’s what even an orc like me needs in literature every once in a while. Also, being an orc, I really liked Alexander’s dad Philip. If Renault were a bit more fair and courageous, I might have liked Olympias as well, but I guess I won’t see a normal human being of female persuasion in her books.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Fire from Heaven is the first volume of a trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great by Mary Renault. Like all of her historical novels, this one was a joy to read. It is also a remarkable act of reconstruction, considering that nothing was written about Alexander by any of his contemporaries -- at least anything that has come down to us. The story of the emperor's early years is presented as a struggle between Philip and his wife Olympias, who have grown to hate each other. In many ways, the tw Fire from Heaven is the first volume of a trilogy on the life of Alexander the Great by Mary Renault. Like all of her historical novels, this one was a joy to read. It is also a remarkable act of reconstruction, considering that nothing was written about Alexander by any of his contemporaries -- at least anything that has come down to us. The story of the emperor's early years is presented as a struggle between Philip and his wife Olympias, who have grown to hate each other. In many ways, the two compete for Alexander's loyalty. At the same time, it is broadly hinted that Philip is not really Alexander's father. (Whether this thread will be carried into either of the two succeeding novels will be interesting to see.) My only complaint is the murkiness of the plot against Philip. Too many characters are brought in at the end of the novel, to the extent that it is difficult to sort them all out. That is, of course, only complicated by the fact that there are four Alexanders in the novel and a host of other frequently used Greek names, such as Pausanias. Fire from Heaven takes to to the death by assassination of Philip at the betrothal ceremony of his daughter Kleopatra to King Alexander of Epirus. Like anything I have read by Renault, it is an engrossing read, with a strong feeling for the main characters.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Pat Anderson

    This was the first of Renault's Alexander trilogy and, to my mind, the weakest. Not really having a lot to go on about this period Renault attempts to reconstruct the early life of Alexander. Unfortunately, in her quest to completely whitewash Alexander, the other characters come across as extremely shallow. Olympias is like the wicked queen in a fairy tale, while Philip appears as a drunken oaf. Philip actually built up Macedon from a primitive backwater to a power that held sway over the whole This was the first of Renault's Alexander trilogy and, to my mind, the weakest. Not really having a lot to go on about this period Renault attempts to reconstruct the early life of Alexander. Unfortunately, in her quest to completely whitewash Alexander, the other characters come across as extremely shallow. Olympias is like the wicked queen in a fairy tale, while Philip appears as a drunken oaf. Philip actually built up Macedon from a primitive backwater to a power that held sway over the whole of Greece. He was a highly intelligent man who does not receive proper justice from Renault's portrayal. Kassandros is a crude caricature, who enjoys rape and pillage. Perhaps more worrying, Demosthenes is drawn as a petty, envious, self-serving sneak. Anyone who has read all of Renault's books will recognise her disdain for democracy and love of Plato's ideas. This comes across most strongly in this book and sometimes reads almost as a manifesto. It is the only one of her books that I have not re-read and feel that her fawning hero-worship of Alexander, and demonising anyone that was against him, sickening.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    This is the first novel of Renault's Alexander Trilogy (continued in The Persian Boy and Funeral Games) and in some ways is the most successful. We see Alexander grow from a 7-year old boy conscious of the tensions between his mother and father, through his education by Aristotle, early relationships, with a girl to prove his parents wrong about his sexuality, and with Hephaistion who remains his life-long soul-mate and friend, to his arrival on the Macedonian throne after the assassination of h This is the first novel of Renault's Alexander Trilogy (continued in The Persian Boy and Funeral Games) and in some ways is the most successful. We see Alexander grow from a 7-year old boy conscious of the tensions between his mother and father, through his education by Aristotle, early relationships, with a girl to prove his parents wrong about his sexuality, and with Hephaistion who remains his life-long soul-mate and friend, to his arrival on the Macedonian throne after the assassination of his father. The emphasis is on how the experiences of the child form the man who becomes leader of the known world, but Renault is subtle and understated rather than thrusting moral lessons on us. She evokes the 4th century Macedonian world in all its cruelty and alien splendour and yet never leaves her readers behind: she is erudite without ever being earnest or overtly scholarly. This is a elegiac novel, far removed from the trite and souless tales of Manfredi or the overtly modern and masculine take of Pressfield: beautifully written, haunted and haunting, it will stay with you for a long time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matt Brady

    What really stood out to me here was the full immersive experience the novel conveys. Ancient Greece and Macedonia are fully realised here as vibrant, detailed, interesting places with complicated histories, dark pasts and spooky gods. Alexander himself, who is, of course, the main character, threatens to be a little too perfect at times, but Renault manages to keep him on just the right side of that line. Some characters, such as Phillip or Hephaistion, are fantastically drawn while others, suc What really stood out to me here was the full immersive experience the novel conveys. Ancient Greece and Macedonia are fully realised here as vibrant, detailed, interesting places with complicated histories, dark pasts and spooky gods. Alexander himself, who is, of course, the main character, threatens to be a little too perfect at times, but Renault manages to keep him on just the right side of that line. Some characters, such as Phillip or Hephaistion, are fantastically drawn while others, such as the scheming Olympias or the cowardly Demosthenes, get somewhat short changed. These are fairly minor quibbles though, and for the most part it's an excellent fictionalisation of the early years of one of the most famous men in the history of the world.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mel Bossa

    June 13th... 2019... Alexander died 2342 years ago... Astounding. His legacy is so far reaching. Bi-cultural. Bi-sexual. And born between fire and water. He went to the barbarians with curiosity and acceptance until he realized that the OTHER was equal but different... **** There's no need to review this. It's the exquisite and unforgettable story of Alexander The Great's coming of age in Macedonia under his father King Phillip. Incredible. I loved every line. June 13th... 2019... Alexander died 2342 years ago... Astounding. His legacy is so far reaching. Bi-cultural. Bi-sexual. And born between fire and water. He went to the barbarians with curiosity and acceptance until he realized that the OTHER was equal but different... **** There's no need to review this. It's the exquisite and unforgettable story of Alexander The Great's coming of age in Macedonia under his father King Phillip. Incredible. I loved every line.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This was a long read because the content is so heavy and historical, and the author's writing so dense, but it was worth it. Felt more like creative non-fiction than anything? Because sometimes we get such beautiful prose and dialogue that you know is fictional, mixed in with long paragraphs about what's happening in Athens and Illyria and on the warfront and whatnot -- a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Definitely recommend if you're a history buff, especially of Ancient Greece. This was a long read because the content is so heavy and historical, and the author's writing so dense, but it was worth it. Felt more like creative non-fiction than anything? Because sometimes we get such beautiful prose and dialogue that you know is fictional, mixed in with long paragraphs about what's happening in Athens and Illyria and on the warfront and whatnot -- a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Definitely recommend if you're a history buff, especially of Ancient Greece.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vaidya

    What can I say? It was a labour of love, at the end of which I had no idea how much it was worth. But then, how early is too early to judge a book? Some turn up long after you think you've forgotten them. I loved the play of history within history. Alexander & Hephaistion, modeling themselves after Achilles and Patroklos. Alexander and Lysimachos, after Achilles and Phoenix. The conscious modelling of Alexander into what he wanted to become, how he wanted to be known. And sadly, following right i What can I say? It was a labour of love, at the end of which I had no idea how much it was worth. But then, how early is too early to judge a book? Some turn up long after you think you've forgotten them. I loved the play of history within history. Alexander & Hephaistion, modeling themselves after Achilles and Patroklos. Alexander and Lysimachos, after Achilles and Phoenix. The conscious modelling of Alexander into what he wanted to become, how he wanted to be known. And sadly, following right into the way he died. The play of Father and Mother who hate the sight of each other, and that influence on Alexander, him not giving his mother away to his father, the king or the other way around, right from the age of 5. The sorcery and belief in omens and pleasing of Gods, derived from his Mother and the brutal war machine as brought up by his father. It is indeed noted that Philip and Alexander were the two who united Greece and Macedonia under one reluctant, grumbling banner and went on to raid Asia. It would take two generations to accomplish one feat, taking as its toll two dead kings and a broken empire. The difficult language with pronouns that need to be traced back to see whom they refer to, make it really difficult to work through the book. It is almost like deciphering a historical work. The next one, The Persian Boy, would have to wait a few months.

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