Reviewed by David Maclaine
In The Persian Boy Mary Renault spins out a rich, believable account of Alexander the Great's later life, from his defeat of Darius to his early death in Babylon. The novel shows Alexander from the perspective of the Persian eunuch Bagoas, named by historians as the Macedonian conqueror's lover. He is a youth robbed by betrayal and capture of his prospect for manhood, groomed because of his beauty for the bed of the Great King Darius. Once a slave regarded as no more than one of the Persian king's many exquisite possessions, Bagoas soon finds himself lover and beloved of the brilliant young man who has toppled his former master. Through his eyes, with their distinctly Persian bias, we follow Alexander as he leads his armies through a series of hard campaigns in Bactria and beyond to India. Beside him, Bagoas faces conspiracy, mutiny, and the dire hardship of a long desert march.
Because the narrator's personal tragedy has barred him from training as a soldier, the novel's focus is less on the many battles fought along the way - although these are treated with Renault's usual care - than on the qualities that made Alexander a leader of men, and the mounting toll on body and spirit of a life lived on a sword's edge. Bagoas eventually understands that his two potential rivals for the king's physical affection, his long-time companion Hephaistion and his young bride Roxanne, are not his most serious competitors. That place is held by Alexander's army, whose love for their brilliant commander is pushed to the brink by his unquenchable desire for glory. That passion drives them ruthlessly toward the ends of the earth. The fictional texture of The Persian Boy is woven around historical events far more fantastic than any careful writer would dare invent. The novel succeeds in breathing fresh, aching life into the man behind some of the most astonishing accomplishments in human history. (1972, 419 pages)More about The Persian Boy at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository