Introduced by Daniel Mendelsohn
Illustrated by Geoff Grandfield
Three brilliant novels resurrecting one of history's most mesmerising figures - Alexander the Great. Daniel Mendelsohn, New Yorker columnist introduces the first illustrated edition.
Few historical novelists have ever rivalled the achievements of Mary Renault. Between 1969 and 1981, in three brilliant novels, she resurrected one of history's most mesmerising figures: Alexander the Great. The Alexander Trilogy tells his extraordinary story, from his childhood in a 'savage' backwater of Greece to his conquest of the known world and the splintering of his empire after his premature death. In these novels Renault does for ancient Greece what Patrick O'Brian did for the Napoleonic era.
Winner of the Books (professional) category at the Association of Illustrators Awards 2014
Fire from Heaven
Fire from Heaven tells of Alexander’s early years in the harsh mountains of Macedonia, a world away from the refinement of Athens. His childhood is dominated by the conflicts between his father King Philip II, a coarse yet shrewd soldier, and his temperamental mother Olympias, a devotee of the cult of Dionysos. Mocked by his father for singing at a banquet, Alexander proves himself by killing his first man at the age of twelve, and later by taming the stallion Oxhead (Boukephalas). Tutored by Aristotle, he forms lifelong bonds with a group of boyhood companions including Hephaistion, his presumed lover. When Philip is assassinated, the twenty-year-old Alexander steps forward unopposed – and sets his sights towards new horizons across the eastern sea.
‘A ruler,’ read Alexander, ‘should not only be truly a better man than those he rules. He should cast a kind of spell on them . . .’
The Persian Boy
After a gap of several years,The Persian Boy takes up Alexander’s story as he leads his victorious army into Persia. It is narrated by Bagoas, the Persian eunuch of the title and one of the most memorable characters in the series. Abducted and castrated as a youth, he was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia. After the defeat of Darius, Bagoas becomes Alexander’s lover in turn, and his guide to the intricate rituals and customs of the Persians. Bagoas is horrified by Alexander’s casual familiarity with his men, which is at odds with the holy reverence given to Persian kings. The Macedonians are equally shocked when their king embraces Persian customs and proclaims himself a god. Alexander has the strongest will of all his soldiers; able to withstand terrible injuries and the rigours of life on campaign. But not even his stamina and charisma, or Bagoas’ wise counsel, can save him from the envy of a discontented rival.
‘I had never craved for power, as some eunuchs do; only for love. Now I understood what power is good for’
As news of Alexander’s death spreads through his vast empire, the Chaldean priests light the fire at the shrine of Bel-Marduk. Others – Persian satraps, Macedonian generals and the royal household – quarrel over the division of his realms. Two foreign wives survive Alexander: Roxane, the Sogdian princess, and Stateira, the Persian daughter of King Darius. Both are pregnant, but they will neither give nor be shown mercy, as the members of the royal family, including Alexander’s mother Olympias, descend into a fight to the death. Only the loyal Bagoas, and Alexander’s half-brother Ptolemy, desire to be left in peace, taking Alexander’s body to Egypt to continue his legacy there.
‘He was a man touched by a god; we were only men who had been touched by him; but we did not know it. We too had performed miracles, you see’
A long time Folio Society member Mary Renault was born Mary Challans in London in 1905. Having trained as a nurse in the mid 1930s she completed her first novel, Purposes of Love. In 1939. in 1948 she emigrated to South Africa with her lifelong companion, Julie Mullard, and commenced her historical novels of hellenic life with The Last of the Wine (1956). Her ‘Alexander Trilogy’ occupied the last 15 years of her life. drawing on primary sources from Arrian to Plutarch, the books earned comparisons with the works of Robert Graves. The first volume, Fire from Heaven, was nominated for the Lost Man Booker Prize in 2010. Mary Renault died in Cape Town in 1983.
New Yorker critic and author, Daniel Mendelsohn has written a new introduction for this edition. He praises this trilogy as ‘the crowning achievement of both a distinguished career and a distinctive life, the hallmarks of which – a resolute independence of spirit, a romantic idealism of fierce purity – were, not surprisingly, the qualities that Renault saw in alexander himself’.
A multi-award-winning illustrator, Geoff Grandfield's previous work for The Folio Society includes Joe Simpson’s Touching the Void and No Cloak, No Dagger by Benjamin Cowburn. In a series of spare, stylised illustrations, he distils the events of each book to their essence. endpapers in each volume feature hand-drawn maps by Kevin Freeborn that show the expansion of alexander’s empire.
Siri Hustvedt, prize-winning author and scholar, is the latest distinguished introducer for the Folio Jane Austen series. Her fascinating introduction examines the notion of ‘persuasion’ as part of the 18th-century New Rhetoric philosophy that would have been familiar to Austen’s readers. She also charts the social changes revealed by the story, particularly in the conflict between the long-established but moribund Elliot family and Captain Wentworth, who has made his fortune in the Napoleonic wars. ‘Old money has given way to new money, aristocracy to meritocracy.’ Hustvedt writes that, despite its sadness, ‘Jane Austen’s last finished novel has become the book of hers I love best.’
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