12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
OK, so you want an historical fiction title that will not only impress but one that will give you real characters that have a more 3D feel as well as being people you can associate with. You also want a story that concentrates on giving you factual information without a lot of hocus pocus and tales about divine intervention alongside a story that allows you to get to know the principle players with a realistic feel with the events that shaped them.
Well look no further as this new book by Christian Cameron about the story of Alexander the Great comes to the fore. He's rounded, he is talked about in the third person and the things that can make a king a villain are also present as the events that shaped his life are brought to the reader's attention. It's wonderfully descriptive, the characters are fascinating and above all else it's the story of Alexander that everyone should read as it allows you to see the man, the not the mythical figure that has made his way through antiquity.
Finally add to this Christian's wonderful writing style, with cracking prose, a wonderful sense of pace and when backed with an instantly identifiable writing style, it's a book that is going to take a hell of a lot to beat this year especially in the award season, and lets face it, that's saying something considering how early this one's out.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Reading this book put me in mind of the Jean-Paul Sartre quote
"I have crossed the seas, I have left cities behind me,
and I have followed the source of rivers towards their
source or plunged into forests, always making for other
cities. I have had women, I have fought with men ; and
I could never turn back any more than a record can spin
in reverse. And all that was leading me where ?
To this very moment..."
Because in this book I have crossed seas, I have climbed mountains forded rivers in flood, I have fought on foot and horseback, I have laid siege and made lightning strikes, I have bestrode Greece and Persia as a God, as a trooper and as a commander, I have loved, I have lived, I have made and lost friends, comrades, kin, brothers in arms and family...All these I have had because of the brilliance that is Christian Cameron's God of War.
I will admit, I am a fan of his work, I will admit that I love the time period and that Alexander and Parmenio are among my favourite characters in history and Fictional history (Thanks to David Gemmell and Lion of Macedon).
But even taking that into account this is still the finest Historical Fiction title I have read to date, and I read a hell of a lot of them.
Where I work I always tell my new starters that you don't learn true understanding of the work by reading the text, you learn by doing the work. This in my opinion is why Christians books stand out so far from the crowd, he does the book reading research, but then he challenges it with his re-enactment, and he experiences it with his re-enactment, and who can write the more accurate description? the man who has it second or third hand or the man who has experienced every moment of pleasure and pain himself.
This Story is Alexander as you have not read it before, told by Ptolemy as you have never heard him before. You meet so many favourites from the tyrant series its a never ending joy of surprises on the most epic journey in ancient history.
There are very few books or storytellers that could leave me disgusted with a character, humiliated by a character, horrified at a piece of action or in tears at the conclusion of a battle or fight.
The only problem Christian has with this book, is how does he beat it?
Far and away my book of the year.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 April 2012
God of War: The Epic Story of Alexander the Great
Felt I had to make this my first amazon review as it was one of the best and most comprehensive (as well as engaging) works of historical fiction that I have read.
Totally engaging perhaps because it didn't portray Alexander as flawless but rather a genius with some very barbaric failings. I certainly wouldn't want to have been considered - however fleetingly - as within his 'close circle' let alone one of his infantry!
I was relatively naive in my knowledge of Alexander it has to be said and I wouldn't normally have chosen this particular subject of period of history; but it was a fascinating read and truly deserving of the high ratings it has received.
All that's left to says if that I do hope Christian will continue with his Ptolemy memoirs! Brilliant narrative.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
There are few figures from history who throw a shadow as long as that of Alexander the Great. Attempts to tell his story must be brave, not least because there are readers such as myself who will have loved Mary Renault's Alexander Trilogy for decades. But Christian Cameron, a man and author steeped in the military history of the period and intensely involved in its re-enactment, not to mention a fine writer to boot, is up to the task like no other. God of War proclaims itself an `Epic Story' and it is just that - in subject matter, in depth and insight, in scope and in volume. At almost 800 pages, each meticulously filled with historical detail, this is no swift read, at least not for me. For ten days, I was immersed in another time and place, populated by some of the most fearsome and ruthless soldiers to march across the ancient world. At their head is Alexander.
God of War does not, though, attempt to look inside the mind of Alexander the Great. Instead, our narrator is Ptolemy, king of Egypt, boyhood friend of Alexander, becoming one of his most brave and able commanders. This might make you recall the Oliver Stone movie Alexander, I certainly did, but this aside Ptolemy is perfectly positioned to tell the epic story of Alexander and chart his progression from golden prince to feared tyrant. Why did the Macedonians follow Alexander year after year, from battle to battle? There are sections during this story in which Ptolemy struggles to find an answer. This is the Alexander who clasps the hand of Darius, the King of Kings, as the great Persian dies, weeping for the death of his reason to fight. His own men, who make the greatest of sacrifices - and some suffer horrendous fates - receive little such regard from the man they've followed across the earth.
Ptolemy is a fine storyteller. He shocks and amuses, especially when commenting on the qualities that define the people of the places they conquer. Like many others, he suffers more than his faire share of injuries and so there are swathes of action that pass in a blur for Ptolemy. Each time he comes to, Alexander's character has been eaten into that little bit more. While Alexander himself is seen as a driving god(demon)like force on the fringes, Ptolemy's own life is told with great detail - his love for Thais, his children, his horses (how he loves his horses) and his friends. Of course, Alexander was once one of them.
After the initial chapters which cover the end of Philip of Macedonia's reign, the succession of his son Alexander and Alexander's time in Athens, the majority of the novel follows Alexander's epic campaign. As a result, there are sieges and battles galore. There is a lot of blood, there are accounts of horrific events and deeds, women and children suffer, slaves and prisoners suffer. The campaign makes people mad, not just Alexander. And throughout it all, there is the question of why.
While it is impossible to fault God of War for its authenticity and historical detail and spirit, I did find the military scenes relentless in a book of such length. This, of course, is inevitable in a novel about one of history's greatest military leaders but I thought the character of Alexander himself stayed too much in the shadows. I missed the intimacy with Alexander that Mary Renault gave us. I missed the details about Alexander's life, his wives and friends. He remains elusive - intentionally, no doubt. Much of the time, especially as the novel progresses, I also found it hard to understand why anyone would follow him anywhere. More understandable is why men would follow Ptolemy and his fellow commanders.
Nevertheless, God of War is an extraordinary and staggering achievement by Christian Cameron. I doubt Cameron's expertise in Greek military history can be equalled or even approached. He is steeped in this period and it shows on every page. God of War does make demands on the reader, or at least this one, but the reward makes them well worthwhile.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2013
Much as I loved the book, especially the first half or so, (and am also a fan of the Tyrant and Killer of Men series) I began to feel that CC was writing a book with an agenda. Does it matter whether he was a 'good' man? Apparently it matters hugely. Perhaps tired of the 'Alexander the Great/God' myths, CC has, through Ptolemy, thoroughly debunked Alexander, and he comes across as a petty, nasty, semi-insane man with god-delusions.
To be fair, there are moments when a reluctant Ptolemy tells us a certain action was godlike or amazing, but I would certainly have given this a 5 star rating had the book been less about beating a drum, a bit less about Thais, and a bit more about the phenomenon that was Alexander.
Having said all that, some of the writing is first-rate, Ptolemy is a wonderful character and the book is well worth buying.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
I hesitated to buy this book. The topic is not original. There are dozens of novels out there on Alexander and I had already read quite a few of them. Modern historians have been arguing about him, each and every of his deeds, their causes, the size of his army and even the equipment of the various units for at least 150 years. This is because his conquests had such a large impact for centuries after his death but also because, as Christian Cameron reminds us, almost no written source from eye-witnesses has survived to our days (apart from a few fragments here and there), although we know they were several because they are quoted in latter works that largely summarize them. Our closest surviving ancient source was writing over 250 years after Alexander's death. There are additional difficulties with the four main accounts (and a number of episodes scattered in less important sources): there are often not consistent with each other. They also reflect different viewpoints and different (political) interests, depending upon which of the original sources they have relied upon. So, and perhaps to a larger extent than other epic stories, researching and writing on Alexander and his times is a bit like detective work: you try to put together a story than makes sense with what little information is available. This is the rather daunting challenge that Christian Cameron took up.
I believe this book can be reviewed on at least three different levels. The first is to determine whether it is a good read. The second is whether you find Christian Cameron's slant on Alexander convincing. The third is whether, and to what extent, he has been historically accurate, at least as far as we can tell, some 23 centuries afterwards and keeping in mind all the limitations of the sources.
1) For me (and for the other reviewers so far) this book has been a fantastic read. It is one of those "can't let go of it" books that you go through until all hours. This is a 750 plus pages book, but I simply did not feel it.
I particularly liked the way the story was told by Ptolemy to young Satyrus in the gruff, no-nonsense, matter of fact way of the "old" soldier (Ptolemy would have been in his mid to late fourties when supposedly telling the story, old by Ancient standards, if you assume that he was one of Alexander's boyhood ). Note that this is not original (remember Oliver Stone's film on Alexander with Anthony Hopkins/Ptolemy telling the story?). However, it is very well done. One of the strongest things going for this book is that it generally "feels and sounds" real, starting with Ptolemy's tone. This also allows Cameron to tell Alexander's story from Ptolemy's viewpoint (including some boasting) and with Prolemy's views being expressed (and Cameron's views through those of Ptolemy!).
So, not entirely original perhaps, but very well executed and with the added benefit that, since the story is being told to young Satyrus, we get a number of glimpses of Kineas (always my favorite!)and many other characters of Christian Cameron's previous novels on Alexander and the Successors.
2) The second point, whether the author's interpretations are convincing or not, is more difficult because it is largely subjective: it depends on how you reacted to the book, and, to some extent, on how much you knew (or thought you knew!) about Alexander and the Macedonians before you picked up the book.
It worked for me, even when I found that some of Christian Cameron's interpretations were far-fetched. It worked so well, in fact, that I often stopped to check a few things when some of Cameron's slants felt odd to me. Anyway, regardless of whether you actually agree with the points being made, there are delivered in a vey powerful and suggestive way that at least appears to make them convincing. One of the best in my opinion was the Macedonian nobles being portrayed as a tough, ruthless, brutal, murderous bunch of ultra-competitive alpha-males, where anyone of them could quite litterally gut you if you made a poor joke. That's part of what Ptolemy calls the "Macedonian way". However, I couldn't help wondering as to whether the author hadn't been a bit excessive here. This "Macedonian way" made me rather think of a pack a wolves instead of the "band of brothers" and "comrade in arms" that another reviewer has mentioned.
Another very strong point is Cameron's presentation of the modern view of Alexander. This tends to insist more on his personality, his limitations and his failures. For instance, he was outgeneralled a few times and did commit a few strategic blunders. Cameron also reconciles this modern view with the traditional presentation of the invicible, super-human almost godly conqueror and warrior (hence the book's title) which may have been heavily influenced by the lasting effects of Alexander's propaganda. He does heavily suggest (and very well in my view) that Alexander has a somewhat "warped and twisted" personality and shows that this was largely because as a boy he was caught between two characters as strong as Philip and Olympias. In modern medical terminology, Alexander is shown as being an extremely talented but obsessed young man with strong shizophrenic and paranoïd tendances that get worse over time. Alexander always had something to prove, always wanted more and always needed to go one step further. It is this slow slide into tyranny, dictatorship and inhumanity that Christian Cameron describes so well in my view.
At times, the "monster" view may however feel a bit overdone, just like Cameron's somewhat exagerated and misleading comparison between Alexander and Hitler (leaving aside the fact that it is totally anachronistic, Hitler was, of course, no general) to make his point that Alexander "was no hero".
On this second level, and even having a few reservations, I can only recognize that Cameron has done a fantastic job.
3) The third point is whether the book's contents are historically accurate, or, to be more precise, to what extent Cameron's story, his view of Alexander and his own interpretations reflect the sources, or at least are not contradicted by them. Here, the assessment is more mixed.
In his notes, Christian Cameron claims that he tries to avoid "altering history as we know it to suit a timetable or plotline." He does not seem to have always practised what he preaches. There are a significant number of instances where he has altered history to fit his plotline. Here are just three examples (but there are many more):
- Kleitos the Black was not one of Alexander's boyhood friends. He was in the same age group as Philotas, about 10 years older, had already served under Philip and has already being made Head of the Royal Squadron when Alexander became king. He did save Alexander's life, especially at Granicus. So Alexander did not murder his boyhood friend.
- Ptolemy was not in command of a taxeis at either Issos or Arbales (or Gaugamela, as some also call it). We know this because the sources actually give us the names of all of the taxiarches for both battles. Ptolemy did command mercenaries at Halicarnassos to "finish off" the capture of the citadels (at least if you believe the sources) but does not seem to have commanded any Macedonian unit until after the execution of Parmenion and Philotas. The same goes for all of Alexander's "boyhood friends" (and, more largely, those of the same age group). Cameron ascribes this to the "stranglehold" that Parmenion and his faction has on all appointments which prevented Alexander from putting all of his friends in commanding positions. While this is very likely to be true, we should also recognize that all of his friends were very young (in their early 20s) and largely inexperienced (despite fighting at Chaeronea and in 335) especially when compared to "Philip's men", some of which had been fighting for over 25 years all over the Balkans.
- The destruction of Tyr, which Cameron presents as Alexander's first case of mass murder, was no such thing. In fact, it was similar to the destruction of Thebes: a number of inhabitants were killed when the city feel (several thousands) but most (30000 according to the sources in the case of Tyr) were sold into slavery. So, not nice and rather brutal and bloody, no Geneva conventions, of course, but hardly the wholesale massacres that would happen almost casually in India
There are other instances where Christican Cameron has chosen an interpretation which fits his plot and which might (or might not) be what happened. There is absolutly no problem with that, to the extent that the author can make his interpretations seem likely. For instance, Memnon's death was an incredible piece of luck for Alexander and the death of Koinos was also rather convenient. There are no claim in the sources that either of them were murdered by anyone although you would certainly not expect such a claim from Alexander. I did sometimes get the impression that, everytime somebody died suddenly, Cameron would suggest foul play. However, it is possible, so why not?
Having said that, Cameron's book is also extremely interesting because of the way he tackles the BIG questions, the ones that historians have argued about for decades. Again, here are a few examples:
- One is the relations between alexander and his father and his take on the battle of Chaeronea against Athens and Thebes, which he presents as Alexander's victory rather than Philip's. In a nuttshell, he opposes the ageing and somewhat drunkard king and the young and overconfident heir to the throne. Here again, you might feel it is a bit over-simplified (and it is), some bits and pieces are omitted (such as alexander's meedling in and undermining of his father's diplomacy), but the story as it is told is very appealing.
- Another is the exact role played by Alexander in the assassination of his father King Philip, whether he knew about the plot (or even was part of it) or not. Given Cameron's take on the "Macedonian way", you can guess what his answer is going to be...
- another is to assess the generalship of Alexander, and the extent he owed his four major victories to the quality of his troops and officers, to luck, to his own merits, or to a complex and shifting mix of all three factors. Christian Cameron strongly suspects the latter and this is very well shown in the book.
- yet another is the total opposition between Parmenion and Alexander in almost all respects, including generalship, character and age.
- another is the tremendous logistical achievement in generally managing to supply his army despite all the difficulties over thousands of miles - although here also there are some exceptions which the book presents
- the last, of course, are the circumstances of Alexander's death.
Anyway, to cut a (very) long story short, this is an excellent and very exciting book, despite a few personal reservations, some of which are perhaps just quibbles. There are a host of reasons to buy thi book and read it, so why not treat yourself to it?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2014
I am a fan of Christian Cameron. I see i have bought 14 of his e-books in last 2 or 3 months. Over the years i have read quite a bit about Alexander and although this is a fictional account i feel it gets as much to the truth as anything else.
It motivated me to watch the film Alexander with Colin Firth the other night and it reminded me how crass and dull the treatment of the life of Alexander can be. The joy of a good book or film is the way it draws you in and makes you engrossed in the story. Christian Cameron's writing certainly draws you in and you feel as though participating in the action.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2012
This has to be Cameron's most ambitious and complete work to date! A monster of a book. The complete life of Alexander all in one volume! (Praise to be Ares, Aphrodite and Herakles no need to wait 5 years and as many volumes to find out what the heck happens!)
As with current fashion at the moment the story of the man of legend is told from the perspective of a close friend, in this case Ptolemy. Ptolemy also provides a link to the Tyrant series which many potential readers will have already read. This book however, I have to say is a step up in class from the later books of that series. Why? well I'll tell you!
Firstly the main hero Ptolemy was perfectly drawn. I have always felt Cameron has been inclined to over egg the hero pudding. A bit like Wilbur Smith's Courtneys they tend to be invariably handsome, noble, brave, dripping in stunning women and beloved by all they meet. All very well if your Sean Connery in Diamonds are for Ever but used to annoy me in an otherwise gritty historical tale. Cameron's Ptolemy (to get back to the praise I was about to lavish) is a flawed and fallible being. Yes he's brave and tough, you didn't earn a place at Alexanders table and then a Kingdom if you weren't! But he is also subject to doubts and the odd failures and has a big nose! (know that feeling). He is at once both in awe and appalled by his King and was a character I felt immediatly at ease with.
Secondly the pacing was nicely balanced between action and detail. So that I had that 'immersed' feeling in the world of the Hellenic period but never had to wait long for the next spear thrust!
And Thirdly Cameron managed to weave an actual story from what is essentially an endless military campaign. Unlike Caesar there is no Cleopatra or Pompey to provide a lover and nemesis. Alexander conquered the Greek world turned right and kept going till he pretty much dropped down dead!
And for all Ptolemy's appeal as a hero this is the story of Alexander perhaps the first worlds first 'Great' Tyrant. And what a portrayal! Cameron acknowledges in his notes that the record keeping was sketchy at best which then gives an academic historian writer like Cameron full licence to draw the Alexander he imagined. And Cameron's Alexander is a character I could really believe in. Heroic yet boastful, self absorbed yet capable of huge self sacrifice. Camerons paints an almost bi-polar figure only truly alive and happy when at war. Camerons gives us the warts and all version, fully illustrating the horrors of campaign, some of the atrocities he commited and his, at times, staggering disregard for life.
Before I round off the review, fans of the early Tyrant books get to be at Kineas' side again as we see him as a serving Athenian cavalry officer before the events of the original 'Tyrant' book.
When Cameron puts his heart and soul into these Hoplite classic's he is a hard man to best! I loved this book and I am happy to award it a gold wreath and of course the full 5 stars and if he's reading this what about a Spartan tale for the next project?
on 14 March 2015
Like one other reviewer, I hesitated to read this book because there have been so many other portrayals of Alexander, and the facts of his story can hold no surprises for anyone. My agreeable surprise was to find how original and compelling Christian Cameron's take on the story was, making this - for my money - the best of all his classical-age novels. The key to success is his choice of Ptolemy as the story-teller: someone not only authoritative and close to Alexander, but - unlike Cameron's other hero-narrators - also a wealthy aristocrat with no serious misgivings about his own worth. Further, as an officer frequently responsible for the logistics of Alexander's campaigns, Ptolemy's viewpoint reveals not only a wealth of fascinating practical detail about classical warfare, but also the true craziness of many of Alexander's own decisions.
Indeed, Cameron tried so hard to be different from previous authors - from Renault to Pressfield - who idolized Alexander, that his portrayal of the great man's weaknesses borders on the unconvincing. Since he himself stresses the disloyalty and anarchy ingrained in Macedonian politics, would such turbulent followers have remained loyal for so long for someone whom they as often had to cover up for as to follow? At least, Ptolemy's own internal conflicts over how to view Alexander are fascinating, all the way through to a powerful final twist.
For Cameron's regular readers, another pleasure of the book is how smoothly it locks in with the volumes of the 'Tyrant' series, and how many gaps it fills in the story of Kineas the Athenian and his friends.
One beef: why are Cameron's books so poorly text-edited? Like the others, this has annoying spelling mistakes especially but not only in proper names. At two points, significant deaths are reported of persons whom I simply could not place from the previous narrative. Whether the author actually made a mistake here, or failed to ensure his reader could keep up with the flock of characters, this is the kind of thing a good editor should eliminate at a stroke.
They that say every man has their own version of Alexander (if they didn't say that then they ought to have done) and this is Mr Cameron's. It's not too close to my idea of the Macedonian, but it's an enjoyable version all the same :-)
Told from the viewpoint of Ptolemy it covers Alexander's life from childhood to death, in greater or lesser detail as appropriate. It's fairly violent book,with lots descriptive power used to give a `real' feel to a swords and shields battlefield. (Not that anyone alive to-day has any real idea of what one of those was like but I'd lay odds that Mr Cameron's view is pretty close as it reads along the same lines as James Norman Hall's descriptions of the battles he was in in WW1 and they are some of the best I've ever read in 40 odd years of reading about warfare). There is also lots of casual violence meted out to all and sundry.
One may, or may not, appreciate the violence but overall I cannot stress enough that this is a good read with strong characters well drawn and in believable situations. The story does end somewhat in space with the death of Alexander and it would have been nice to have had a little more on Ptolemy's move to Egypt, but then the book is about Alexander so I shouldn't grumble.
The `exception' on the character front, if exception is not to strong a word, is the character given to Alexander himself. As he comes across to me I can't see anyone following him across the room let alone across continents!
The Kindle version is formatted well and some 773 pages on my iPad.