33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The brilliant opening to a brilliant trilogy
This is the first novel of Renault's Alexander Trilogy (continued in The Persian Boy and Funeral Games) and in some ways is the most successful. We see Alexander grow from a 7-year old boy conscious of the tensions between his mother and father, through his education by Aristotle, early relationships, with a girl to prove his parents wrong about his sexuality, and with...
Published on 25 May 2006 by Roman Clodia
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not yet received
I have waited for this book since before Christmas. Also waiting for another Mary Renault book - The Persian boy. I have had funeral games but want to wait until the first books of the series arrive.
Published 2 months ago by Gil
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The brilliant opening to a brilliant trilogy,
This is the first novel of Renault's Alexander Trilogy (continued in The Persian Boy and Funeral Games) and in some ways is the most successful. We see Alexander grow from a 7-year old boy conscious of the tensions between his mother and father, through his education by Aristotle, early relationships, with a girl to prove his parents wrong about his sexuality, and with Hephaistion who remains his life-long soul-mate and friend, to his arrival on the Macedonian throne after the assassination of his father.
The emphasis is on how the experiences of the child form the man who becomes leader of the known world, but Renault is subtle and understated rather than thrusting moral lessons on us. She evokes the 4th century Macedonian world in all its cruelty and alien splendour and yet never leaves her readers behind: she is erudite without ever being earnest or overtly scholarly.
This is a elegiac novel, far removed from the trite and souless tales of Manfredi or the overtly modern and masculine take of Pressfield: beautifully written, haunted and haunting, it will stay with you for a long time.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Renault's best novel?,
Fire from Heaven is perhaps Mary Renault's finest achievement - an utterly convincing account of the childhood and youth of Alexander the Great. Life at the court of Philip II is presented with an attention to detail that lends the novel an almost hallucinatory vividness, particularly in the opening scene between the four-year-old Alexander and his mother. As a work of homoerotic romantic fiction it is without peer (amusing to see other reviewers claiming that Renault leaves the question open as to whether Alexander and Hephaistion sleep together or not - their relationship is very clearly consummated while they watch a vixen and her cubs in the woods: their fellow students at Aristotle's school have a bet on as to whether 'those two did anything or not'; after the fox scene they 'recognised the signs and paid up', while Alexander's post-orgasmic melancholy is alluded to several times - it's all there for those with eyes to see). It is true that Renault demands intelligence and some knowledge from her readers, also that she uses more accurate transliterations of Greek names than the more familiar Latinised versions, so this novel will not be popular with everyone.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must to understand Alexander's childhood,
Fire from Heaven was one of my very first books that I read on the subject of Alexander the Great, here depicted in his early years up to his accession to the throne of Macedonia. It is a novel, of course, but it is what we call a historic novel as the entire story is based on facts that have come to us through ancient writers. Consequently, the greater part of Alexander's life is fiction and we should not look too closely at the details, but all in all Mary Renault manages to describe the décor and circumstances in which Alexander grew up with a great feeling of trueness since they are interwoven with historical facts.
Although Mary visited Greece only once in her life, she manages to describe the landscape and daily life very vividly and makes you feel part of the events. It is amazing to discover that she wrote this book when she was well into her sixties (1969), to be followed three years later by the controversial Persian Boy. In her later years, Mary Renault, to be pronounced as Ren-olt, managed to create her own Greek world based on what she read in ancient literature and the details she found in statues and painted vases about all facets of life in those days.
Whether you know about Alexander or not, you witness a vivid and lively account of daily life in Macedonia in the fourth century B.C. and more specifically at the Royal Court. Both Alexander's parents show themselves each with their own character, King Philip II the womanizer but highly successful warrior and leader of the peoples in and around Macedonia; Queen Olympias with her dark furies and mysterious Dionysus rites very possessive of her son. We witness how Alexander struggles within himself with this heritage, but also how he finds comfort in Hephaistion's unwavering trust and devoted friendship.
Historians have a tendency to shrug their shoulders and smile pathetically when you mention this book, but it is one of the rare occasions to come so closely to what could have been Alexander's true life in his early years. The only author from antiquity mentioning anything about his boyhood is Plutarch, all the others start with Alexander's deeds after Philip's murder when he became King of Macedonia and set out to conquer Asia. Based on the very scarce information available, the efforts of Mary Renault are even more recommendable.
Personally, I dare say that this story is very close to the truth - at least, that is my personal opinion. When I visited Pella for the first time many years ago, I had the feeling of a déjà vu thanks to her book. It was amazing to discover how skillfully she brought the ruins to life!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fire from heaven,
Renault's novel is now being released in e-book to bring her story of Alexander to a new generation. Growing up in the home of his father Philip of Macedonia, Alexander is a little boy of seven, riding, handling a house-snake, learning from his half-brother Ptolemy. King Philip is a jealous, warlike ruler - he has to be - and his only son must grow up fast.
People believed the gods might send mortals blessings or curses, might lie with mortal women and give them sons, or send the Furies to drive sinners mad. Macedonian Greeks considered everyone else to be barbarians, and Persian envoys are wearing trousers, the notorious sign of a barbarian. For their part the envoys consider the kingdom small and provincial; the king even drills soldiers himself! "Gold is the mother of armies," Philip tells his son. Philip has captured gold mines to pay his troops and invented the sarissa, or extra-long spear, by which a massed troop provided the hedgehog defence.
Alexander is sent to begin training, and ordered by Leonidas the Spartan to speak better Greek than the Macedonian barrack-room talk. His mother is outraged by the succession of girls that Philip enjoys. Through their eyes we see everyday life in Greek times; theatre, clothing, food and drink, music on kithara and lyre, with references to the gods, to the fall of Troy and the labours of Hercules. The jigsaw of kingdoms and alliances, armies paid by looting and melting down temple treasures, a culture where manhood is achieved by killing a boar and a man.
Alexander meets and tames the spirited black horse Boukephalos or Oxhead, in accordance with the writings of the first horsemaster Xenophon. Aristotle the philosopher teaches him science and statecraft. As Philip marches out to war Alexander is left to manage the lines of communication. The lad knows all the soldiers well, their strengths and failings, and cannot be manipulated by those who wish for promotion. FIRE FROM HEAVEN ends with the death of King Philip, and the e-book has a taster of the second book, 'The Persian Boy' as well as notes and photos from the respected author Mary Renault.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read,
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Excellent book well written and engrossing from start to finish. Look forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long before `Don't Ask, Don't Tell'...,
This is the first in a trilogy of historical novels on Alexander the Great, whose phenomenal military and political achievements in the ancient world have fascinated students of history throughout the ages. How could he have created such an expansive empire before his very youthful death at the age of 33? Mary Renault's recreation of his life seems authentic, based both on the objective record, and what we know of human interactions. And her prose is lively and lucid.
"Fire from Heaven" covers Alexander's "coming of age,' and in his era, for certain individuals like him, it meant having to kill another human, which he did at the age of 12. To create the empire he did, he had to be what is called an "alpha type" today; a trait he inherited from his headstrong parents. His father was King Phillip of Macedonia. Renault portrays an equally strong mother who is worried about her son's apparent lack of enthusiasm in women. In one scene, she is goading him: "Soon your father will be making you a marriage. It is time you showed him it is a husband he has to offer, and not a wife." She is on her throne when she says this, he approaches, glaring, and looks down at her and says: "You will never say that to me again." Renault then goes on to describe the young girl of 15 who will have Alexander's virginity: "'I am here,' she said like a child repeating lessons, `because I have fallen in love with you. Please don't send me away.' He walked steadily across to her. The first shock had passed; one must not be seen to hesitate. This one was not liked the painted jeweled hetairas with their easy charm, the patina of much handling."
Renaud was a lesbian, who had a life-long partner in Julie Mullard. In 1948 they left what they considered to be the more restrictive social climate of England, and emigrated to what they considered was a more tolerate South Africa. Homosexuality in the Greek world is a strong theme in her novel, and although the actual historical record is not conclusive, she clearly implies a life-time homosexual relationship between Alexander and his youthful friend, Hephaistion. This novel was originally published in 1969, the same year that the Stonewall riots occurred in Greenwich Village. The Gay community embraced Renault; but she did not eagerly reciprocate, since she did not want to be known as simply a "gay writer."
But consider the following, which is a dialogue between Alexander and Hephaistion, in which the former quotes from a book of Plato's: "Love makes one ashamed of disgrace, and hungry for what is glorious...Suppose a state or an army could be made up only of lovers and beloved. How could any company hope for greater things than these, despising infamy and rivaling each other in honor? Even a few of them, fighting side by side, might well conquer the world." A reasonable quote to support the repeal of the subject line policy.
Other sections can also be used to support a policy opposed to having a professional army which fights foreign wars. Consider: "But it's the Thebans who will decide. You know their constitution. A moderate oligarchy they call it, but the franchise test is low; it takes in any man who can afford a hoplite panoply. There you have it. In Thebes, it's the electorate that fight in any war it votes for." Voting for a war, and then be compelled to fight in it! It is enough to make you hanker for "traditional Theban values."
Overall, Renault has produced a well-written insight into one of history's most remarkable individuals. 5-stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime storycraft,
Where to begin in reviewing such a classic of historical fiction? I’ve read Mary Renault before – The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea; engrossing tales based on the legend of the Greek hero Theseus but grounded in a more historical, plausible world by Renault – but this was my first time reading Renault’s magnum opus. Fire From Heaven is the first book in a trilogy about Alexander the Great, and covers the conqueror’s life from childhood through to the moment he became king, and is far and away her best work. Frankly, it puts The King Must Die and The Bull From the Sea in the shade.
Renault has an innate sense of time and place, situating the story within its historical and cultural context with sublime skill and understanding. This is such a critical point in immersing the reader in the story. As some who loves both history and reading, it’s fair to say I actively seek out novels recreating the ancient past, and it’s equally fair to say that some of them disappoint the historian in me. I’ve read historical fiction where it’s obvious that the author has completely failed to understand the times he or she is writing about, failed to understand the culture, society, and thought of ancient peoples. For me it’s incredibly frustrating, not to mention jarring, when I want nothing more than to be immersed in ancient Rome or Egypt, only to find myself on a 21st century stage with unconvincing cardboard sets and characters spouting dialogue espousing 21st century values. It’s cringe-inducing. Thank goodness for wonderful writers like Mary Renault. A rarefied few, and I happily count Renault among their number, seem to have genuinely researched the period they’re writing about and succeeded in getting inside their characters’ heads – not to mention, skilfully conveyed this on the page, another challenge entirely. It’s a vicarious experience, and I’m pleased to say Fire From Heaven swept me away to ancient Macedon.
Characterisations are rendered not only deftly but with astonishing vividness and humanity. Renault clearly had a talent for understanding the human condition, and how to make her characters breathe with believable warmth, spirit, and life. It’s easy to forget that the Alexander presented here is a product of Renault’s imagination. His subtle and complex characterisation gives a stamp of authenticity that adds tremendously to the quality of the story. If I can believe a character could exist in real life as an actual human being, my immersion in the tale and my empathy for those characters is exponentially increased. Moreover, Renault doesn’t shy away from allowing the book to have a complex plot, allowing the characters to be subtle, contradictory, unexpected human beings, and this succeeds spectacularly.
Truly elegant and erudite.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Love, death and the God-Touched Golden Youth,
I first encountered Mary Renault's books in my teens, as they fed a fascination I had had with Ancient Greece from a young child - not the Ancient Romans, always the Ancient Greeks!
Periodically I re-read Renault. What I most love is her ability to be deeply versed in the history, but (for the most part) to wear her history lightly and to lift these extremely complex facts (details of wars, conflicts, politics, culture) into a poetic, mythic creation of flesh and blood. Her characters seem both real living human beings, but also archetypes, dangerous, archaic, raise-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck stuff.
There is something, for me, in the curious contrasted mixture of the rational, thoughtful, philosophical, conscious Apollonian strand to Greek civilisation, and the dark, Dionysian rituals, the savagery, the barbarism. Greek history and mythology is such a weird, bizarre mix
Fire From Heaven is Volume 1 of Renault's Alexandrian Trilogy, the story of the Macedonian born Alexander the Great, from his birth, to the death of Philip of Macedon, his father (or was he - this is an important thread within the novel)
Although at times there are too many historical characters on the scene, and deciphering the many shifting alliances and wars of small states is a little confusing - particularly as there are several historical characters with the same name (3 Alexanders!) - overall this is a gripping, absorbing narrative.
Renault was of course primarily, despite her great research, a novelist, so what she has done is fleshed out and imagined the people behind the recorded facts that are there.
She is true to the spirit and the times, so that the weird, the mythic, the acceptance of the oracles, the signs, the presence of the magical is presented through the eyes of then, not interpreted as now.
Where she is most magical, for this reader, is where she rises to the poetic and symbolic. Often, in her description of the bloody, the barbaric, the destruction and savagery.
"By the clear lake of Lychnidis, the mud of combat settled, pike and eels picked clean the drifting dead. The crushed lilies slept to sprout green another year; the white acacia flowers fell like snow in the next fresh wind, and hid the blood. Widows mourned, maimed men fumbled at former skills, orphans knew hunger who had never lacked before. The people bowed to fate, as to a murrain on the cattle, or untimely hail stripping the olive trees. They went, even the widows and orphans, to make thank-offerings at the shrines;........Their gods, regarding their offerings kindly, kept from them the knowledge that they had been a means and not an end. In grief, more than in joy, man longs to know that the universe turns around him."
I received this as an ARC from the digital publisher Open Road Integrated Media, who are publishing tremendous digital versions of some classic twentieth century re-releases
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely wonderful, magical read...,
This review is from: Fire from Heaven (Vintage) (Paperback)
I love Mary Renault's Alexander trilogy. This first book deals with Alexander's early life and ends with the murder of his father Philip. I know some people have criticised it, because she really does romaticise Alexander, but I don't care. I'm not mistaking this for history, after all - the whole 'son of the god' thing gives that away! - although her attention to detail really is incredible. And I love the attention she gives to Alexander's relationship with Hephaistion - he really was the most important person in Alexander's life and a lot of writers tend to gloss over that because of their discomfort with homosexuality. I've lost count of the number of times I've read the series and it's still as good as ever.
25 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Character Nurtured in the Household of a Successful King,
This review is from: Fire from Heaven (The Novels of Alexander the Great) (Mass Market Paperback)
Fire from Heaven is an historical novel of Alexander the Great's life from his birth through the death of his father when Alexander was a young man. The focus of the book is on the development of the man's character and skills as a leader, displayed both in the context of his war experiences and his family.
One of the repeating themes in literature and biography is the difficulty that eldest sons have in succeeding in their fathers' eyes. Alexander the Great was a notable historical exception to the usual rule. His father was exceptionally able, and united the Greeks prior to his assassination. Alexander was a greater man, and this book explores the development of their relationship amid the backdrop of court intrigues and Hellenic politics. Plutarch's Lives is the primary source for Fire from Heaven, but Mary Renault has drawn from other post-Alexander sources to weave a compelling historical novel of what it might have been like back in Pella.
The Macedonians had a number of habits that some would be uncomfortable with today. These behaviors included killing as a rite of manhood, slavery, taking physical advantage of weaker people, plundering, polygamy, open bi-sexual relationships, raiding neighbors for pecuniary advantage, and sacrificing of animals to the gods. If any of these things distress you, this may not be the novel for you. These behaviors play a big role in the story.
Alexander's father and mother did not see eye-to-eye. Part of the reason was that his mother was probably overly politically ambitious. Another part of the reason was the his father rarely saw a beautiful young person he did not find attractive, and he was a man to act on his impulses. The book explores how Alexander developed his independence of character and action from both of his parents.
Much of the novel can only be guess-work, but the record is fairly clear that Alexander was able to command respect as a field commander by the time he was only 16. He also displayed a dislike for taking the easy way out, so his many principled stands make sense. The book also looks into his relations with his friends and colleagues, and leaves it open as to whether these were sexually chaste relations or not. The author's note leaves it up to you to decide what his preferences really were.
The book was most appealing to me before Alexander was butting heads with his father. One of the most revealing episodes though is one where Alexander saves his father's life, and his father pretends to be ignorant of the fact. Actually, their relations were probably harmed by this, because it made them into peers before they were ready to accept one another in that way.
If you are like me, you will find it intriguing that it could be difficult to be the son of a successful king, even if you are about to conquer the known world on your own. It was also interesting to read about what it might have been like to have had Aristotle as a tutor. The sections about Demosthenes also added to my appreciation of the role of an orator in Athens at the time.
If you are not fascinated by Alexander, you will probably grade this book down to about three stars. If you would like to understand Alexander a little better, you will find the insights here more accessible than Plutarch's and the novel to be very interesting. If you want to learn about military strategy, this book will be a one star effort for you.
After you finish reading the book, I suggest that you think about what kinds of experiences can help form the character of your children in positive ways. I also hope you will learn from the example here to let the relationship evolve easily as your children become ready for more responsibility.
Help your child create an inner spur to be the finest person of character your child can be!
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Fire from Heaven (Vintage) by Mary Renault (Paperback - 10 Oct 2002)
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