Saturday, January 16, 2010
Review: Fire From Heaven, by Mary Renault
Fire From Heaven is the story of Alexander the Great, the legendary fourth-century BC king and emperor who succeeded after his father was killed. He had a short lifespan (he died at the age to 32), but he had an incredible life and career, which Mary Renault attempts to recreate in this novel.
Alexander in this novel seems much older than he really is; but that’s because he’s precocious. Alexander’s a fascinating man, made even more fascinating my all that he accomplished in 33 years. Alexander is pretty much legendary, so Mary Renault was a bit ambitious in the writing of this novel.
I have to admit that I’m a bit out of my element here in terms of the historical period, since I don’t read much fiction set in ancient Greece. But the historical detail is deeply evocative; King Phillip’s court is beautifully rendered here. It’s clear that Mary Renault really, really researched her subject matter before writing, and that she has a deep understanding of, and empathy for, Alexander. But most of the time the novel is very hard to read, and it took me a while to finish it.
I also have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this book; and Renault’s prose style is a little unusual. In terms of the story, she does tend to jump around a lot, but not so much that it’s glaringly obvious after a while. This is not my favorite work of historical fiction, but I’m willing to read more by Mary Renault at a later date, as I’ve heard her novels are fabulous.