Funeral Games

by Christian Cameron

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Christian Cameron's Funeral Games is set in the same period as Mary Renault's novel of the same name. It's the third novel in his Tyrant series, and the one in which the story is handed over to the next generation, a pair of twins born to the protagonists of the first two novels. It begins with betrayal, death, and a desperate flight from determined assassins, during which the twelve-year-old twins, a boy and girl who share an unusual upbringing, must grow up very quickly indeed. After a three-year gap the story resumes with most of the survivors of the first half established in Alexandria. Soon their enemies are breathing down their necks again, and their struggle for survival intensifies. Their effort to stay alive long enough to start planning to retake their lost Black Sea kingdom entangles their fate with King Ptolemy's struggles against his own enemies. Soon the twins are off to war, to take part in a crucial battle whose outcome will go far to decide how the Greek successor states take shape.

Cameron's narrative has all the elements you'd want in an adventure story. His young protagonists have advanced horsemanship and archery skills thanks to their mother, who ruled a kingdom of horse-peoples from the steppes; their adult companions, a Spartan tutor who drinks too much and an Olympian athlete-turned-trainer from Corinth, have the advanced martial skills you'd want when you have to fight your way out of one tight spot after another. The author's storytelling technique is of the highest order, swift and compelling, and his deep knowledge of the period shows in the careful details. Cameron's protagonists are still young when Funeral Games ends, so we can nurture the hope that he'll follow their fates well into adulthood in many additional lively tales from a period still largely unknown to the average reader of fiction. (2010, 493 pages)

More about Funeral Games at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Funeral Games appears on the list of The 36 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Greek History

Other novels about the struggles for power after Alexander's death:

Besieger of Cities by Alfred Duggan (1963; also titled Elephants and Castles), about Demetrius I of Macedon, one of Alexander the Great's successors. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Funeral Games by Mary Renault (1981), about the fracturing of Alexander's empire after his death as his generals and relatives vie for power. See review or more info at Powell's Books

Stealing Fire by Jo Graham (2010), historical fantasy about Lydias of Miletus, who follows Ptolemy to Egypt after Alexander's death. More info

Nonfiction about the fracturing of Alexander's empire:

Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire by Robin Waterfield (2011). More info

The Greek World after Alexander: 323-30 B.C. by Graham Shipley (2000). More info

The Hellenistic World by F.W. Walbank (1992). More info


Ptolemy I Soter at Wikipedia

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