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Posted October 26, 2013
Mary Renault's Alexander the Great Triad ends with "Funeral Games."
Alexander the Great has died; from the moment of his death, the cohesive force that was the Macedonian army is no more, and his generals, wife, and enemies fight for prominence - a well as a young woman unmentioned in Renault's previous novels.
Once again, Renault brings us deep into that time, so deep we can almost see each character before us; her writing is clear, yet layered in its concise, literary power. There are no wasted words, anywhere. The dialogue is direct and to the point; this tale is a much faster "read" than "Fire From Heaven" or "The Persian Boy", but the adventures turn grim as the desire to take up Alexander's mantle overcomes nearly everyone he knew, favored, or despised.
Although luxuriously buried in the tomb of his beloved Hephaistion, Alexander is an unquiet spirit all through the book. As Perdikkas, Philip Arrhidaios, Demetrius the One-Eyed, Ptolemy, Seleukos, and Kassandros vie for control of Macedonia and the remains of Alexander's empire - and of his legend - a granddaughter of Philip, Eurydike, steps forward to make her own claim for the throne. Roxane and Olympias take their places, the first, as mother to his only living son; the second one as mother of the dead king. Both women have blood on their hands; both women - in fact, nearly all the contestants - meet their end. The only one left standing by the end of the story is the only man who leaves what was Alexander's alone: his half-brother Ptolemy, who takes up the throne at Egypt and pays honor to Alexander there.
There is a brief mention of Bagoas, and his mourning is displayed with a gentle elegance, but neither of Alexander's wives is portrayed favorably. Renault seems to have had a dislike of women in general, particularly ambitious ones. Stateira, Alexander's Persian wife, is shown as a naive victim of Roxane's vindictive jealousy, and Roxane herself is so unpleasant that her fate evokes little besides a sense of justice done at last. Eurydike, the young challenger, is almost patronized by the author. Olympias, who was shown in "Fire From Heaven" as a smothering, damaging mother, is shown behaving in much the same way in "Funeral Games", but her reaction to Alexander's death - and her own - is moving.
Some battle scenes are alluded to; Renault does not linger on gore and violence, probably because she knew that do so would be excessive, as deaths occur in every chapter. This succession war is so bloody that it should come as no surprise that no one of Alexander's family or inner circle holds on to the Macedonian empire. The betrayals and murders are numerous. It is almost as if a curse claims each person who attempts to follow Alexander to the throne.
Once again, Ms. Renault has chosen to narrate the story from the third person point of view of various characters. And once again, this is the work's only fault: the point of view keeps changing - sometimes within a sentence - to the point that it is hard to figure out who's doing the talking. Otherwise, this trilogy is a magnificent work of historical fiction.