Reviewed by David Maclaine
Funeral Games was Mary Renault's last book, finished just a year before her death. If it's the least successful of her novels about the world of the ancient Greeks, Renault in old age is still the best companion imaginable for a journey through the confusion that followed the death of Alexander the Great. There's ample suspense in the twists and turns which raise an assortment of contenders for the place of the departed hero and then undo them, along with moments of pathos that remind us of the human cost of the game of thrones.
Among the players in this funeral drama are Ptolemy, who wisely contented himself with Egypt, and the Persian eunuch Bagoas, who becomes his ally. Other key players include Antipatros, regent of Macedonia, his unscrupulous son Kassandros, the one-eyed general Antigonus and his charming young son Demetrios. These last two take the first steps that will lead them to leading roles in the next stage of the drama. But the age after Alexander's death is the only period in ancient Greek history after the Heroic Age when women get a real chance to make history. That means the women in this story are the first to make a big splash since the Greek Dark Age: Alexander's widow Roxanne and her unwitting, doomed Persian rival, his sister Kleopatra, his mother Olympias, and his cousin Eurydike. Eurydike, a teenaged tomboy making a bold move to hold her own against the veteran generals around her, is among the most sympathetic characters in the novel. Her marriage to Alexander's mentally-retarded brother offers a window of opportunity for her ambition, and her kindness to this hapless man-child, a figurehead for the ambitions of others, makes suspense about their destiny a matter of deeper concern to the reader than the twists of fate that punish so many others. But it is the nature of things that you must not expect many happy endings in a novel called Funeral Games. (1981, 335 pages)More about Funeral Games at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository