Reviewed by David Maclaine
Besieger of Cities is set in the Greek world after Alexander's empire has fractured into five major parts, with the kings of the new realms scheming to enlarge their own domains and perhaps, with ambition, luck and skill, to reunite the empire once again. The protagonist of the novel is Demetrius, son of Antigonus, an adventurer who early in the story brings "liberty" to the cities of the Greek homeland. His bemused response when the grateful Athenians declare him a god is the first of many events revealing Demetrius' skeptical but good-natured personality and leavening the novel with humor. His attempts to sort through the contradictions of Athenian democracy add to the enjoyment, and the comedy multiplies when the distinctly heterosexual protagonist tries to adopt the fashions of his hosts by seeking a young male lover. Demetrius is a bit more successful in his multiple marriages, remaining on good terms with the companionable first wife who deals patiently with the additional spouses he must add for political purposes. His military career has its ups and downs. He was more famous for the latter; his greatest failure as a besieger of cities was commemorated by the Colossus of Rhodes.
Reading Besieger of Cities gives one a nice central view of the various powers that arose in Alexander's divided empire, from the standpoint of one player who finds that the varying fortunes of the warlord's trade eventually have a downward trend. Alfred Duggan's great gift was his Dickensian ability to create characters who are both believable and likeable. Demetrius has the good humor of Mr. Pickwick and the unfounded hopefulness of Mr. Micawber; it seems only proper that the Besieger's adventures end in comfortable house arrest rather than a violent death. Nice guys may finish last, but at least they don't always end up as mincemeat. (1963, 287 pages)More about Besieger of Cities at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository