Fire from Heaven

by Mary Renault

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Fire From Heaven tells the story of the childhood and coming of age of Prince Alexander of Macedon, tracing the emergence of gifts that would lead in manhood to world-shaking accomplishments and everlasting fame as Alexander the Great. It is a story of a brilliant mind and fierce spirit finding its way in a world defined by fundamental conflicts between his father, the King of Macedon, and his violently jealous mother, and between growing Macedonian power and opposition from the traditional Greek powers. The vision that would lead to historic victories reveals itself here in smaller-scale battles, some literal, many others waged within his soul. The young prince learns much from a succession of tutors, but as is always the case with prodigies, it is what he learns on his own that sets him apart.

In this novel Renault sets aside her more usual first-person viewpoint to round out Alexander's perspective with those of his friend and lover Hephaestion and an assortment of others. We follow the political steps that will end in the defeat in battle of the united Thebans and Athenians, and the plots and feuds that will lead to Philip's assassination. Just as important as the sequence of events that puts Alexander on the throne at the moment his father's long-planned invasion of the Persian Empire is about to begin, is his emergence as a leader of men, in love with both honor and a burning dream of glory. It's almost unthinkable that anyone could read this novel without an ardent desire to know what happens next. Several novels portray the adult accomplishments of Alexander the Great, and it takes more than one to get a full perspective on those remarkable deeds. But Renault's great work of imagination in Fire From Heaven, delving deep into the heart of the boy who would someday rule most of the known world, seems unlikely ever to be surpassed. (1969, 375 pages)

More about Fire from Heaven at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Fire from Heaven appears on the list of The 36 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Greek History

Other novels about the young Alexander:

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon (2010), about Aristotle, who reluctantly accepts Philip of Macedon's request that he tutor Philip's son Alexander. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Child of a Dream by Valerio Massimo Manfredi (1998), #1 in the author's Alexander trilogy. More info

A Murder in Macedon by Anna Apostolou (1997), a fictional attempt to solve the mystery of who murdered Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. More info

Nonfiction about Alexander the Great:

The Life of Alexander the Great by Plutarch (probably written in the late first century). More info

Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman (2011). More info

Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox (1974). More info

At the Movies:

Alexander the Great, the 1956 film starring Richard Burton as Alexander. It's not Burton's finest performance, and the film ignores Alexander's homosexuality. But it does stress his boyhood education with Aristotle and the conflicts between the philosopher's teachings and Alexander's thirst for glory. And there are some rousing battle scenes.


Alexander the Great at

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