Reviewed by David Maclaine
It didn’t take long for God of War to convince me that we really did need another novel about Alexander the Great. Christian Cameron retells, from the viewpoint of Alexander's childhood companion Ptolemy, the story of the Macedonian who conquered almost everything. This provides us with a different angle from the other top novels telling Alexander’s story: Renault’s Fire from Heaven and The Persian Boy, and Pressfield’s The Virtues of War and The Afghan Campaign. Cameron provides detailed treatments of events the other novels glide past, including Alexander’s desperate effort to survive the first year after his father’s murder, the hard-fought campaign against Memnon, the incredible story of Alexander's long, dogged siege of Tyre, and the fateful sojourn in Egypt during which his divinity was proclaimed.
Ptolemy’s viewpoint is especially apt because this is a darker view of Alexander than you’ll find in the best of the alternatives. Cameron’s Ptolemy finds Alexander a man easy both to love and hate. His narrative offers an uncompromising view of Alexander’s flaws, including the murders of former friends and the utter pointlessness of his warfare in India. And who is better-placed to argue that Alexander was fatally addicted to warfare, destroying more than he built, than the man who went on to build the most enduring of all the kingdoms that succeeded him? We follow Ptolemy through the bloody cut and thrust of one battlefield after another. As his wound-tally grows and the body count rises ever upwards, it’s easy to agree with him that enough is enough. As always, Cameron is convincing in the details of how ancient battles were fought, and unflinching in his view of their cost. The novel also finds ample room for Ptolemy’s complex, loving relationship with the Athenian hetaira Thais. If you want a powerful novel that will deepen your understanding of Alexander, you owe it to yourself to read God of War. (2012, 800 pages)More about God of War at Amazon.com or The Book Depository