Reviewed by David Maclaine
If Ross Leckie's Hannibal is only the second-best novel about the Carthaginian general, the author's artistry is reason enough to seek it out, even if you've already read Durham's richer and more thorough Pride of Carthage. The story begins in Hannibal's childhood, and a third of the book passes before he embarks on his long war against Rome. This means that the treatment of the famous campaigns is selective and spare, but it is nice to have another version besides Flaubert's of the mercenary revolt, and to have any version at all of the way Carthage expanded in Spain. My only quibble with the treatment of Hannibal's youth is two obvious borrowings from Mary Renault's Fire from Heaven. I'm not sure why Leckie has Hannibal reenact the famous story about how Alexander tamed his war-horse Bucephalis, complete with Renault's embellishments about the horse's mistreatment, or why his hero goes out to kill his first man in battle on a mission so very like that in Renault's book.
Leckie's version of Hannibal's story is long on atrocity, packing in more varied forms of torture and execution than you'd expect to find in any three novels. The focus is on the leader himself - the novel takes the form of his memoir - showing how his father shaped his fate toward total, unconditional war against Rome and inured him to horror in childhood, ensuring that he left a trail of blood and eventually lost any positive sense of himself. It is the harshest, least romantic version of this war one can imagine, with the strokes of military genius invariably set off by an uncompromising view of their cost. But Leckie will have more to say about Hannibal's legacy, completing the tragic portrait in two further books of a trilogy. (1996, 245 pages)More about Hannibal at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository