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Book Reviews: Fiction (The rest of it... It depends... )

The “Hell” series.
Alexander figures in several of the books, with a co-starring role in "The Little Helliad".
Reviewer: Forum Contributor
Though I don’t follow a religion that has a “hell” this series was still an amusing escape from work. But one is left to ask “Why is Alexander viewed so often as a “boy”? (T.E. Lawrence also seemed to suffer this fate) Does it have to do with our own responses and dreams more than any connection to height, age or ? Some of the stories with Alexander were painfully bad, others amusing, still others poignant- it is fiction and claims to be nothing else, so read and enjoy!

A Choice of Destinies, Melissa Scott
Reviewer: Forum Contributor
It promised an intriguing premise - what if Alexander had turned west instead of east. What it offered was an Alexander story with a few tidbits of future possibilities thrown out to justify the book premise. I’m not saying the book was “bad”, but it left a lot to be desired - it is the sort of book that you read, and then forgot you read, for the most part.

Lord of Two Lands, Judith Tarr
Reviewer: Forum Contributor
I admit I found this book lacking, which I had not expected to do. Some readers claim that Ms Tarr has “captured” Alexander’s personality well, but I was not impressed. It was hard to decide if this was a romance masquerading as historical fiction, or romance simply using some historical background as justification for the characters. For me, the book was predictable, the stereotypes fully in place (it will be refreshing when the people and cultures of the Middle East are written by people who actually understand these cultures), the heroine boring. But to be fair, I have had others say they enjoyed the book, so read it and decide for yourself.

Alexander (Trilogy), V. Manfredi
Reviewer: Janet Fauble
The trilogy which is written by an Italian author has been translated into English by Ian Halliday. While Alexander the Great has been the subject of many biographies and historic examinations, this book which is truly nothing but fiction does follow the outline of Alexander's life as described by Plutarch. The trilogy is recommended for high school students who have only a brief knowledge of the famous Macedonian King. It is written in a simple, direct, but often rambling method. The author jumps from character to character for his point of view, and that sometimes is quite annoying. The theme of the trilogy appears to be that with faith in one's own destiny, one can achieve success, surmounting nearly impossible odds. Alexander is a kind of historic figure who embodies the notion of divine life fulfillment. Believing that he is a son of Zeus, he accepts his divine origins as proof that he will rule the known world, and thus, ventures out to accomplish that worthwhile and noble purpose. Because he is under the influence of a very successful warrior father, he endeavours to best him as soon as he possibly can. With the encouragement of his spiritual mother, he leans towards a religious belief that develops his character. Under the tutelage of Aristotle, his philosopher teacher, he learns wisdom and knowledge to assist him in his future journey. Because he answers to the call that awaits him, he proves his mother's assertions about his divine status correct when he ventures to the sands of Siwa to have an oracle reassure him of his divinity. As a God, he can now go forth and master all the obstacles that lie before him, and his troops and friends follow him with a devotion and tenacity that is truly mindboggling. Manfredi does not trivialize any of the lifetime known facts of Alexander's childhood, and eventual succession to the throne. He skillfully weaves anecdotal stories into this long and arduous journey in such a way as to keep the reader interested and enthralled. Granted, it is all fiction and Manfredi's own personal collection of stories or vivid imagination, but it does breathe life into the outline of Tarn's skeletal recounting. I enjoyed reading the book, and liked some scenes in particular which are of course all Manfredi and probably nothing close to the truth of the real Alexander. But the way in which Queen Ada adopts Alexander is amusing and wonderful. This poor woman who so desired a child of her own was at last rewarded with the Grand Prize of the Day. Another interesting romantic episode that I enjoyed is the love between Barsine and Memnon and then of Barsine and Alexander. The romance is further punctuated with the problem of the son of Memnon and Alexander's humane understanding of the child. It is very touching to think of Alexander at such a youthful age having profound depths of emotion for a widow and her children. Part I is devoted to the childhood and education of Alexander, introducing us to Hephaestion and Leptine, two people who are very important all through his life. In part one, we learn of his parents, King Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, whose impact on his development is not underestimated. And Aristotle and his nephew Callisthenes make their appearance here as well. Part II is the early years of Alexander's succession to the throne in which he asserts his own rule and personality to prove his mother's belief in his divinity correct. In part 2, he travels to Siwa after successfully securing his Kingship through battles in Thebes and all of Greece, and part of Turkey, and consults the oracle who assures him that he is truly son of Zeus Ammon. Armored with that faith in his calling and his divinity, King Alexander, after becoming Pharaoh of Egypt, moves on to conquer Persia, and in Part III, succeeds in carrying his troops to Afghanistan, and all of Iran and finally into India. Because he was successful in solving the riddle of the Gordian Knot in Book 2, he is confident of his truly being the rightful King of Asia. But Manfredi does use the device of the sword cutting the knot under a spiritual sunny inspiration that caused me to doubt Manfredi's belief in Alexander's truly being the rightful heir to the Asian throne. As I understand it, and Tarn agrees with my thinking, the swordcutting is myth and not fact. Most true to the belief in Alexander's divine calling acknowledge that he pulled the ends loose in such a way that made everyone acknowledge his right to Asia. King Midas was so clever to insure Alexander's success. At any rate, the book is chock full of devices that make me believe that the author has scriptwriting intentions for the trilogy. There is an exciting scene in which two giants battle each other to the death, and that sounds like a Hollywood sound stage to me. Another scene involving his contacting the ghost of Parmenion to ease his conscience perhaps is quite interesting, and it is noteworthy to note that the way in which Manfredi has Parmenion killed is both logical and sensible for the poor old faithful General who has lost two sons. It is a very touching and absolving scenario. The description of the troops at the Palace of Darius is most fascinating as are many of the unbelievable feats in which these troops master all odds. To me, Alexander becomes an allegorical symbol, similar to Christian in Pilgrim's Progress. So long as Alexander consults the gods, appeases them as apparently directed to do by the Oracle at Siwa, he achieves success. Only in succumbing to the Persian way and lifestyle do we be begin to see a breakdown in the long and regular Greek method. As Alexander intertwines the old with the new, the Greek with the Persian, the troops and the King change slowly from one cultural heritage to another. Manfredi treats what some consider to be the tragic end of Alexander with due respect, and make the reader have sympathy for the cause of Alexander. As Alexander becomes more and more Persian, his Greek allies and Macedonian brothers become less and less trusting and faithful to him. Having had to change from the democratic practices of Athens to the more Kingly and authoritative ways of the Persians has created rift and friction. The storyline that Manfredi creates is interesting and sympathetic to the King despite his growing need for Persian sympathies and support. He marries into the Persian families and thus begins to bring a Greek and Persian culture into existence. He longs to introduce the Hellenistic culture to the Persians and Indians and creates cities named for himself as he travels onward throughout the region. But his men have grown old and in a most interesting mutinous scenario, we hear Alexander deliver one of his most stirring speeches to his troops, reminding them of their past, his father, and his long time spent with them, causing them to regret their desire to leave him. It is moving and touching to realize how dear his troops are to him, and he to them. Finally, the prophecy of Siwa is nearly complete when his great and dearest friend dies before him as did Patroclus in his relationship to Achilles. As his forerunner built a great funeral pyre for his faithful companion upon his death, Alexander builds a great pyre for Hephaestion. It is interesting to note how often Alexander deliberately copies Achilles behavior. Manfredi makes his readers believe that Alexander is the reincarnation of Achilles. It is a great trilogy for high school students or first time students to Alexander. Fortunately, Manfredi does not try to penetrate the heart and soul and mind of Alexander, and lets the reader evaluate for himself the possibilities of Alexander's personality and character. He creates a likeable King, a great student, a fair and prudent leader, a man whose good sense enables him to make always the right decision despite his advisors objections. It is interesting to note how Alexander is able to keep his general's loyalty while often dismissing their advice. He is successful in preventing threats to his rule as he has to eliminate those who oppose him, whether from within his own troops or the worthy adversary. But because of a plot against his own life, we then begin to detect the cracks and crevices in the well trained troops. It was disturbing to me to find that he had had a few traitors in his camp. This is an entertaining book, and an easy read. It is great for discussion as it does offer challenges to the reader. Making the impossible plausible is more than anyone can fathom, but Manfredi makes his readers believe in the impossible. After all, didn't Alexander climb every mountain, ford every stream? Surely, by the time we finish this classic work of art, we know that the Gods are with Alexander and with those kind of Gods, all things are possible.