The pleasures of this book begin when you first pick it up. The publishers have chosen a stunningly beautiful cover, very apt if you already know the story of Antinous and Hadrian. The book is written in the first person, and is a fictional autobiography, if there is such a thing, of the beautiful young Bithynian boy who became, first, a favourite of the emperor Hadrian, and then a god. There is very little actually known about Antinous, which gives Melanie McDonald free rein, which she uses well. She sets her story in a reasonably accurate context,using fictional characters who are well rounded and believable. It is important to remember, however, that it is fiction and not history. There is a jarring note however. Antinous is supposed to be 18 or 19 at the time of his death, and the book looks back on his life from the age of about 5. The tone tends towards the clinical, and it is difficult to decide what his real feelings are for Hadrian. Love or duty?
There are three scholarly interpretations of the cause of Antinous' death, accident, murder or suicide. McDonald makes her choice evident from the beginning, but that in no way detracts from the story. This is a beautifully written book, presented beautifully.