Last of the Amazons

by Steven Pressfield

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)

More about Last of the Amazons at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

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

Other novels about Amazons:

The Bull from the Sea by Mary Renault (1962), based on the legend of Theseus and the Amazons from Greek mythology. See review or more info from Powell's Books

The Firebrand by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1987), a feminist perspective of the Trojan War seen through the eyes of a Kassandra raised by Amazons. More info

Alexander and Alestria by Shan Sa (2008), a novel about Alexander the Great in which he has a love affair with an Amazon queen from the eastern steppe country. More info

Nonfiction about Amazons:

Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities by Batya Weinbaum (2000). More info

Centaurs and Amazons: Women and the Pre-History of the Great Chain of Being by Page duBois (1991). More info

The Early Amazons: Modern and Ancient Perspectives on a Persistent Myth by Josine H. Blok (1994). More info


Characteristics of Amazons in ancient literature at the Amazon Research Network

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