Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India.
After Alexander's death in 323 B.C. his only direct heirs were two unborn sons and a simpleton half-brother. Every long-simmering faction exploded into the vacuum of power. Wives, distant relatives and generals all vied for the loyalty of the increasingly undisciplined Macedonian army. Most failed and were killed in the attempt. For no one possessed the leadership to keep the great empire from crumbling. But Alexander's legend endured to spread into worlds he had seen only in dreams.
©1981 Mary Renault (P)2014 Audible Studios
"Renault's skill is in immersing us in their world, drawing us into its strangeness, its violence and beauty . . . a literary conjuring trick . . . so convincing and passionately conjured" (The Times)
"The Alexander Trilogy stands as one of the most important works of fiction in the 20th century . . . it represents the pinnacle of [Renault's] career . . . Renault's skill is in immersing us in their world, drawing us into its strangeness, its violence and beauty. It's a literary conjuring trick like all historical fiction - it can only ever be an approximation of the truth. But in Renault's hands, the trick is so convincing and passionately conjured." (Antonia Senior, The Times)
Funereal Games is the story of what happened to Alexander the Greats vision, dreams, and empire after his death in Babylon in 323 BCE.
Fire from Heaven, the first book of the series we meet Alexander the boy and watch him grow to manhood. There he is torn between his mystical mother, Olympia, and his father Philip II of Macedon. The parents do not get along is an understatement. During his formative years he falls under the influence of his teacher Aristotle and develops his own way of independent thinking. Here he also forms his life long bonds with his companions and the army of Macedon. Book one ends with the parental conflict resolved by the assassination of his father Phillip the II and Alexander’s succession by election of the army to the throne of Macedon.
In the second book, The Persian Boy, the prospective shifts to a more interment, fly on the wall way, in the person of the eunuch Bagoas. It is through his eyes one comes to see the conquest of Alexander and appreciate the vision to create an empire of many peoples and unify the competing warring empires and his attempt end the xenophobia between the peoples. This book ends with Alexander’s death leaving behind two pregnant wives, a mentally challenged acknowledged half-brother, and an older unacknowledged half-brother Ptolemy. The scene depicted at Alexander’s death resembles the activity and disarray that takes place when one kicks over an ant hill.
Funereal Games, book three, picks up the story through the eyes of Ptolemy. He was one of the generals under Alexander that functioned like a team of chariot horses all pulling in consort to a common end. But now the rains are loosed. The steading and guiding hand of the charioteer is dead. The generals are all thrashing and grabbing for power to become the guardian of the unborn children of Alexander or to place the simpleton half-brother on the thorn by calling him Philip III and rule through manipulation. There also develops a struggle to control the embalmed body of Alexander on its way back to Macedon for burial. The body has become a political symbol far too important to be treated like just any other king. The book goes on to describe the fate of Alexander’s unborn children, his wives, the simple half-brother, his mother Olympia, Bagoas from book two, the various generals that strived for power and to control various portions of the empire.
The book ends with an elderly Ptolemy, in his library room, speaking to his second son, to whom he has turned over the running of Egypt, indicating he has just finished his history book of Alexander to set the record straight and put lie to Alexander’s detractors. This scene foreshadows the founding of the great library of Alexandria by Ptolemy son. The scene also appears to be the inspiration to the opening scene of 2004 movie Alexander directed by Oliver Stone, with starring role going to Colin Ferrell. That movie appears to be a tip of the hat to Ms. Renault’s book.
As to my assessment of this book, I must preface it by saying I cannot look at it in isolation from the other two books that preceded it. Alexander has always been somewhat of an inspiring figure to me as well as other throughout the ages. It is said that Jules Cesar wept because by the time he conquered Gaul, Alexander had conquered the known world. In the first book one comes to appreciate the forces that shaped Alexander from boy into manhood. The second book is a much more intimate look at a superior inspiring character that is none the less human and has flaws. The final book is much more the story of how Alexander’s empire was disposed of by lesser men that did not have fire and the leadership to hold it all together. It is full of political intrigue and pay backs that were held in check while Alexander lived. Yes Alexander was the glue that held it all together. The center does not hold and, indeed, things did fall apart as another reviewer observed. However, more importantly, Ms. Renault has quite a talent for making the dead past come alive. And not just in her Alexander series. I do recommend Funereal Games to the listener, as well as the preceding two books in order to get a complete and satisfying experience.
I can also recommend Ms. Renault’s books the “King Must Die” (The classic story of the young Theseus Slaying the Minotaur) and the “Bull from the Sea” (This is tale of Theseus's triumphant return from Crete to become King of Athens) currently available on audible.
Finally, to the good people that run Audible: Please secure the rights to offer the last five history, and/or Greek mythology based books Ms. Renault has written.
1. “The Nature of Alexander” is billed as an actual history book. This would be a good companion listen to her three novels based on Alexander.
2. “Lion in the Gateway” is the authors telling of the heroic battles of the Greeks and Persians at Marathon, Salamis, and Thermopylae.
3. “The Mask of Apollo” this story is set in the Greek city state in Syracuse. There the struggle for good government through philosophy verses tyranny play out. Ms. Renault gives the reader a look into the intellectual life of the Greek symposium.
4. “The Praise Singer” this book is a portrayal of Simonides, the poet as he learns to master his craft and secure fickle patrons.
5. “The Last of the Wine” is set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. The story is told by a young aristocrat named Alexias.
Excellent ending but disappointingly short. Loved the trilogy & recommend it to anyone who enjoys their history. Just be ready for an abrupt 9 chapter finale.
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