Customer Reviews for

The King Must Die

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2005

    The King Left Me Disappointed

    I¿m a big reader of fiction and love classical Greek and Roman history so I figured this story would be right up my alley. I¿d also heard about Mary Renault¿s writing prowess but to be honest, I wasn¿t impressed. It wasn¿t historical inaccuracies that bothered me. With Theseus, you¿re more in the realm of mythology than history and mythology is just another name for fiction. I was bothered more that the story wasn¿t true to itself or to what Theseus was meant to represent. In all likelihood, the man Theseus never existed. His name derives from the Greek word for state or institution. He is a founding hero of the Greek tradition, similar to Heracles or Perseus. He was meant to personify all of the noble attributes of an Athenian: fairness, courage, intelligence and resourcefulness. Firmly ingrained in the Theseus I read about from Plutarch is a deep sense of responsibility which Renault¿s Theseus doesn¿t have. When Theseus chose to travel the Isthmus Road rather than take the safe boat to Athens, it was because he was disgusted that a bunch of brutal ruffians could keep decent people from traveling freely and safely. Renault¿s Theseus makes the trip to save face when someone challenges him. Plutarch¿s Theseus was a reformer whose first interest was always his people. Renault¿s Theseus forgets his kingly responsibilities as soon as the next adventure comes along. I even had to question Renault¿s choices. At times is seems she attempts a realistic interpretation of the legend the Minotaur is a guy in a bull mask and all of the nasty characters Theseus meets on the Isthmus Road are really just common bandits. But she also implies a supernatural relationship between Theseus and Poseidon. Theseus is able to predict an earthquake and he keeps getting into battles where all those around him are torn to bits while he escapes without a scratch. This turns Theseus into nothing more than an adventure hero like Conan the Barbarian. Theseus is invulnerable and always gets the girl. This may be okay for some people but I had loftier hopes for this story. I read a lot of history and know the price paid in blood for victory. I know how quickly a reckless adventurer dies and can¿t reconcile that image with the founder of Athens. I can¿t say the story was a complete disappointment. It moved quickly and I never lost interest. The best part for me was the lurid description of the Cretans. It has motivated me to read more about Minoan culture. Renault¿s writing style is engaging enough that I might give her another chance and read The Last of the Wine.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I¿ve just finished this novel, and it¿s superb. Beautifully writ

    I’ve just finished this novel, and it’s superb. Beautifully written with a gripping plot, The King Must Die is a realistic treatment of the first part of the Theseus myth, complete with Minotaur, labyrinth, the witch Medea -- and of course Ariadne.

    Renault depicts Ariadne as both princess and priestess of an old earth mother religion in Crete. Theseus, a follower of the newer Sky Gods, grew up believing he was a son of Poseidon. Renault makes the conflict between the two religions a key theme, and uses it to move the plot in a direction that's consistent with the myth.

    I recall seeing this book in my father's library when I was very young. He had all the Renault novels, including a title that fascinated me: Fire From Heaven.

    At about age ten, I paged through Fire From Heaven. There I found scenes related to sex, marriage and jealousy which I never forgot. Though not explicit (these books were written in the 1950s), they disturbed me, leaving the impression that I was getting into deep water with these adult topics.

    What made me decide to read this book after all these years? I recently came across an interview with fantasy/sci fi author Tanith Lee. She cited The King Must Die as her favorite book from childhood. Clearly it was a major influence on her style.

    The power of Renault's descriptive writing is something to behold. Here's how she describes Theseus' reaction on first seeing the city of Athens:

    "Suddenly, at the turn of the road between the low green hills, I saw standing huge before me a great flat rock, like a platform raised by Titans to assail the gods from. Upon its top, glowering bright in the western sunlight, stood a royal palace, the columns russet red, the pink-washed walls picked out with white and blue squares. So high it stood against the sky, the guards on the ramparts looked as small as goldsmith's work, and their spears as fine as wire. I caught my breath. I had guessed at nothing like this..."

    A sequel, The Bull From the Sea, describes Theseus' later life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2009

    Loved It

    I thought this book was amazing. In just a few sentences Mary Renaults manages to wow me. At times it is hard to understand, but as all classics go... It was a mandatory summer read, and I am beyond grateful. If it had not been, I would have never heard of this song and never have gotten the chance to ... read it. One of my favorite parts goes:

    "For I had felt too much and reasoned too little, hearing what I was ready to hear, not what had been said." (pg 42, Renault.)

    Anyways. I recommend this book. Love it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    boring and skippy

    this book was so confusing to read. it continually skipped around from Theseus' childhood to adolescence. the characters came and went to quickly for me to figure out what they were all about. as far as greek mythology goes, some dieties i have never heard of, and sound a bit made up to me. the end was very disappointing and anti-climatic

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  • Posted October 21, 2008

    Am I the only reader appalled by the writing?

    If you really like obfuscation posing as ancient dialog, then this is great stuff. Otherwise, it's just badly written. Not only is the style pointlessly dense, but every few pages there are sentences that are simply gibberish. (I used to work for a group analyzing obscure biblical passages, so I'm fairly conversant with gibberish.) Some bits are not even sentences.<BR/><BR/>Characters repeatedly make decisions that do not appear to derive from events or character development. E.g., at the end of the book, the main character is apparently grossed out by the-love-of-his-life's involvement is the local rituals, and decides to leave in the middle of the night. This is a guy who's repeated been exposed to a variety of gruesome events, often as not with little remorse, and has repeatedly fought his way through impossible odds. But his girl gets some guts on her, and he runs away.<BR/><BR/>Ms. Renault also wanders off repeatedly into detail that is useless or irrelevant. For example, Theseas is on his way to a mysterious rendezvous, but suddenly there are a few sentences about the fact that the city has plumbing. He has no interaction with the plumbing, and no interesting tidbits are offered about it, it's just there.<BR/><BR/>It appears from the other reviews that if you love this kind of thing, you'll probably love this anyway. I just found it annoying.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2007

    My All Time Favorite!

    I've read this book over 30 times in the last 10 years! It's a treat, a vacation for the mind. Definately a must read for the serious mythology lover!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2005

    A good read...but not recommended for all

    The basic premise of this novel was enough to interest me when I was assigned it for summer reading. The 'action' scenes (fights and bull dances) are easily the best parts, and there are plenty of these in the story for one to enjoy. I am not entirely sure how Renault came up with the idea of bull dances...but it works really well. But Renault's writing style is incredibly frustrating. She uses vague pronouns constantly...a long conversation between Theseus and 'he' could be going on and I would have to turn back over 5 pages just to be reminded on who 'he' is! The dialogue is therefore really hard to follow at times, and that can really hurt one's understanding of the plot. This is why I would have to say that the third part, 'Athens', is probably the weakest part of the story, since most of it is dialouge and it lacks the combative conflict and intensity of 'Eleusis' and 'Crete'. It all sunk in better after having read the novel a second time, though. Theseus' narration, though it suffers from the same flaw in MR's writing that I just mentioned, does a good job in keeping the reader interested. This is probably shown best in the first part, 'Troizen'. But the reader should still be warned: this is not a straight prose telling of the story of Theseus. There is no big minotaur fight scene, for instance. Also, like I said, Renault's writing style is weak. The events that come to pass in her storytelling are often unclear. But if the reader is patient, 'The King Must Die' will deliver.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 11, 2003

    Boring? I couldn't leave it alone!

    I read this book a few years ago, high school or middle school maybe, but it has stuck in my mind since then. I absolutely loved this book, and read it for fun, not an assignment. While I will agree that the beginning of the book was a bit slower paced, once I got into the book, I couldn't put it down. I got in trouble reading it in class instead of doing school work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2002

    The Stuff of Myth

    I'm in awe of Mary Renault's writing ability. Her style in "The King Must Die" - proud but reverent, with just the right amount of foreshadowing to add a sense of fate - does justice to the material, which is from Greek myth. Renault doesn't ignore the power of religion, either. The classical Greek myths aren't just a bunch of stories for her characters. The gods are real, and these characters act accordingly. ...This is how deeply involving and electrifying Greek myth must have been to the people of that age. There are great battles of will, great sacrifices, powerful signs, vengeful gods, crises of conscience, love, war, bloody-handed justice, and quite a lot of sex. ...What a story. And what a writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2002

    A classical myth transformed into an adventure story

    Mary Renault revitalizes the ancient Greek myth of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur by following its hero's thoughts and actions as a series of rites of passage. Theseus, no longer innocent, leaves home, traverses dangerous territory, kills his first adult opponent, beds a queen, and returns home triumphant, only to volunteer to be one of the youths annually sent to Crete as doomed tribute to King Minos and as mortally perilous bull-dancing entertainment for the king's minions. He welds together a team so flawlessly attuned and unselfish that all its members survive, and he then goes on to new adventures. Because of the book's explicit (though tasteful) sex scenes, I was surprised to learn from a teenager who spotted the title on my beach towel that he had read it in his freshman year at a parochial prep school in Connecticut. But then I realized that The King Must Die is indeed an adventure story which teaches tenderness and consideration as well as sexual politics to its intended young audience. The descriptions and extended similes are Homeric in their richness, and the story is faithful to accepted versions of Greek mythology.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2001

    The Legend of Theseus

    One of the Best books I've ever read; and lets add its sister-book, The Bull From the Sea. This set is worth its weight in gold. But the first is the the birth of a Legend, the second is the passing of the torch,that keeps the legend alive, of the man called Theseus. The Last of the Wine was great also, but can not compare to the Theseus duel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2001


    this book was amazing thoough the begining was unbelievably boring it was a gold mine once he hit the trail and went to Eulesius and Athens and Crete 1 of the best ive ever read. I had to read this book for my honors english class over the summer even though id rather be hangin out at the pool with my friends i spent time readin this book. I loved it and recomend it

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2001


    Okay ive read many other reviews on this book. But come on, we really should give her credit for this book because it deals with something very interesting. Greek Mythology. It was fascinating. I recommend it to other people who are very interested in myths. GO FOR IT!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2001

    Good book

    I was assigned to read this as for an AP class over the summer.Although I would have rather done other things with my summer days it was interesting and not that bad.Even though some parts dragge don a little too long. Over all it was a pretty good book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2001

    Not so bad

    I was assigned to read this book last year. Everyone who read it agreed that it was the worst books ever. I did not think it was so bad. It is slow and boring at many parts but it's not unbearable, so read on. It's nice to have a passion for mythology if you read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2001


    THE KING MUST DIE is a wonderful book if you are interested in myths about ancient Greece. The book provides a clear and logical explanation of what the myth of Theseus and The Minotaur was most likely about. Mary Renault has done something outstanding in showing us, the readers, the character and life of Theseus in ancient Greece. This book is a definite MUST-READ!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2000

    loan it but do not assign it.

    The bad reviews this remarkable writer has received seem to've come from kids who've been forced to read her. Recommendation to those bright children--come back to her when your sense of history has matured. The Odyssey is indeed good, but how come the Iliad has not been broached by the first reviewer? Renault deals with Homer quite extensively throughout her work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2000

    Do not read this book.

    I would have given 0 stars if possible too. The book was very boring. The writing style is very boring, and hard to read. Dont think that I am just some dumb kid who doesn't like to read. I love reading, writing, drawing, and many other intellectual things. I have an IQ of about 140. I have read close to 150 'big' books, including the unabridged version of The Oddysey, in 5th grade. I understood all of it better than this horrible abomination of a book people call interesting and fun to read. The King Must Die is and exception. Out of all the books I have read, only about four I absolutely hated. The King Must Die is one of them. I STRONGLY recommend not reading this book. If you have to read it, try and find Cliff Notes for it. One of the only reasons I got an A on my 3 page essay on the book is because I read the summary at the back of the book, and paid attention during class discussions. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2000

    Kill me

    I would have given it 0 stars if it were possible. I've found this book to be horribly boring and couldn't read more than one page at a time. It was an English assignment, however, so I was forced to put myself through this agony. Never again. DON'T read this book if you don't have to.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2000

    The most enthralling book based on greek myths I have come across

    This book was magnificent! if you like greek Myths or fantasy, then this is the book for you. I first read this book years ago and hae kept re-reading it out of sheer interest. Mary Renault is a genius by the way she takes myths and facts about the Minoans and turns it into a wonderful book of fiction.

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