Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lion of Macedon

David Gemmell was a noted fantasy author whose works were best sellers in the 80's, 90's, and early 00's, before suddenly passing away at his computer as a result of a massive heart attack.  Even though I've always been of a mind to read an occasional fantasy novel, I completely missed Gemmell's work during his lifetime's popularity.  Maybe it was the really cheesy covers used by his American publishers, or it could be that I just spent more time reading history or historical fiction and just never got around to picking up one of his works.  Recently though, I noticed that Christian Cameron, the author of the Tyrant series set in Hellenistic times, highly recommended "Lion of Macedon" as one of his favorite works of Ancient historical fiction.  Since I have very much enjoyed those books in the Tyrant series that I have read so far, I decided to give "Lion of Macedon" a try.

So, it turns out I enjoyed the novel very much indeed.  It's not truly a historical fiction novel, but a blend of that and fantasy elements - although the fantasy side is subtle and doesn't dominate the story.  As a fantasy novel, this one is in the vein of dark and gritty, with complex, conflicted protagonists, and villains that are understandable and sometimes sympathetic - all in all, very much in the style of George R. R. Martin's, "A Game of Thrones", although certainly much more concise.  Actually, it is my understanding that Gemmell is considered one of the originators of this style of fantasy, and if that is the case, then "Lion of Macedon" certainly qualifies as such a book.

The novel tells the tale of Parmenion, from his youth as a half-caste Spartan warrior suffering much abuse at the hands of his peers, through his time as a professional runner and general in the Thebes of Epaminondas, and finally into his middle age as a mercenary under Philip of Macedon, the future father of Alexander the Great.  Unknown to Parmenion, his life is being guided by a sorceress who is training him to eventually take on a Dark God seeking to enter the world in the flesh by being born into a human child.  The book is very fast-paced and action-packed, although I did find the scenes of individual one-on-one fights more vivid than the large scale battle ones.  The characters have enough depth to rank above the one-dimensional ones most common in fantasy literature, and readers familiar with this period of Classical Greece will see many of that time's notables make appearances in the pages - Xenophon, the Spartan kings Agesilaus and Cleombrotus, Epaminondas, Aristotle (as a philosopher and a wizard), Philip of Macedon, and even the shades of Leonidas and the 300 who make a brief but important appearance at a battle in the spirit world the Dark God dwells in.  History purists might cringe at some of the material - for instance, Parmenion instead of Epaminondas actually devises the strategy of the extra deep phalanx used by the Thebans to defeat the Spartans at the Battle of Leuctra - but within the framework of the story, it all works quite well.

For anyone looking for a relatively light read, that still has meaningful depth in a melancholy atmosphere, and has a very unique and entertaining approach to historical fiction, "Lion of Macedon" is a very worthwhile way to spend a few leisurely afternoons or evenings.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this review. I've not read the book (and probably won't) but as an occasional reader of historical fiction I do enjoy reading around the topic. I expect you'd have read Mary Renault's Alexander trilogy? The first book seemed to me a bit stilted but as I recall she was in fine form in the second and third.

    Cheers,
    Aaron

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  2. An excellent book and a great review!!!!

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  3. I have read the first two books in Renault's trilogy, but that was quite a few years ago. I liked them both a lot at the time, but I wonder if they would be dated now. I do have her Funeral Games, about the immediate aftermath of Alexander's death, on my upcoming reading list though.

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