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.


Chelsea said...

I know what you mean about Renault's prose style being a little...unusual. All that aside, I loved this book and I'm sorry that it didn't quite seem to grab you! The historical details WERE a little much (which I kind of skipped over in large chunks because, as bad a scholar as it makes me, I don't really care) but the way Renault is able to describe the glances between Alexander and Hephistion with such tortured and restrained passion - well, needless to say, there was a lot there to be admired! You should check out Persian Boy which is her next in the 'Alexander' trilogy and covers the time from his 20th birthday until his death. It adds a bunch of new layers to the characters she's already developed.

Gwendolyn B. said...

It's been a long, long time, but I read THE PERSIAN BOY and really enjoyed it. I haven't read FIRE FROM HEAVEN, but maybe Renault hit her stride by the time she wrote the second novel in this trilogy. Certainly, Ancient Greece was her specialty.

Smart Finance Blogs said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only ... you can see in Ancient Greece The Trial of Socrates (399 BC) and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,


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