Reviewed by David Maclaine
Last of the Amazons is an intense retelling of the legend of Theseus and his Amazon bride. Fans of Mary Renault, who remember that she treated that same subject with considerable flair in The Bull from the Sea, may be excused for wondering whether they have any incentive to seek out Steven Pressfield’s brave excursion onto the same terrain. The answer depends on whether you are willing to explore the harsh truths about what it would really mean to have a nation of warrior women, with a pronounced emphasis on warrior. Pressfield’s area of expertise is the life-altering face of war. His Amazons are conceived as the earliest and most highly-skilled of the succession of horse peoples who learned the art of mounted archery and thereafter dominated the steppes between the Don and the Danube for three thousand years. If the Amazons of legend really existed, this is the way they surely must have lived: as a proud people, riding free across the grasslands, living an honorable life according to the old warriors’ code, but merciless when dealing bloody death to their enemies.
The centerpiece of Last of the Amazons is the great invasion of Greece by these fierce warrior women and their allies. It is a tale brimming with butchery, where death follows death, and the manner of each bloody end is more varied than in the battle scenes of the Iliad, where spear pierces brain-pan or breast a tad too repeatedly. Those who can stomach without flinching the extremes of warfare, and can also embrace the idea of women who are utterly sure of their own power and mastery should find much to admire in Pressfield’s novel. For me, at least, the final pages brought tears of the deepest sort, where grief and loss are transcended by the vision of a proud legacy. (2002, 416 pages)
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