Review 1332: Fire from Heaven

Cover for Fire from HeavenIt seems like I’m in the middle of a lot of trilogies lately. I just wrote up my review of the last of Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy (coming soon) and in two weeks the review of the first book in Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy will appear. I actually just finished reading the second book in that trilogy (review coming in a few months) and liked it enough to purchase her Levant Trilogy. Now, here’s the beginning of another trilogy. Fire from Heaven is the first book in the great Mary Renault’s trilogy about the life of Alexander the Great. Renault, of course, is known for the historical accuracy, admired by authors and classicists, of her novels set in Ancient Greece.

Fire from Heaven follows the life of Alexander from the age of four to nineteen, when he became king of Macedon. His life is plagued by the battles between his mother, Olympia, allegedly a sorceress, and his father, King Philip. Philip’s crime is to have taken additional wives, even though Olympia is at total enmity with him. She sees this as a mortal affront and teaches her children to hate him. She is also cagey about whether Philip is actually Alexander’s father, hinting that he is not.

As Alexander gets older and begins learning about fighting and diplomacy from his father, they begin to understand each other. Olympia’s machinations and Philip’s womanizing continually create problems and misunderstandings, however.

An important person to Alexander is his friend Hephaistion, who becomes his lover. The two are inseparable, and Alexander is fascinated by the Sacred Band of Thebes, a group of soldiers composed of pairs of lovers, said to fight the more doggedly because of it.

This novel is rich in the intrigues among the city-states of the area, the myths surrounding Alexander’s life, and the depth of characterization. I read it long ago but found I didn’t remember it well and am pleased to have begun rereading this trilogy.

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8 thoughts on “Review 1332: Fire from Heaven

  1. Helen March 28, 2019 / 3:52 pm

    I’ll be starting this trilogy soon too. I liked but didn’t love Mary Renault’s Theseus books so I wonder if I will enjoy the Alexander ones more.

    • whatmeread March 28, 2019 / 4:00 pm

      Not sure. It’s so long since I read the Theseus books that I don’t remember them well, although I think I liked them more than Alexander. But I agree that I like this book but don’t love it.

  2. karenvirginiaflaxman March 28, 2019 / 6:33 pm

    PBS recently showed a Masterpiece Theater series based on Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, starring the innimitable Keeley Hawes as Mrs. Durrell. It was beautifully done. Now I’m inspired to read the Corfu trilogy and am looking forward to reading your review.


    • whatmeread March 28, 2019 / 6:58 pm

      Oh, good! Yes, I saw that series, as well as My Family and Other Animals, which is older and based on the first book.

  3. Ruthiella March 28, 2019 / 8:59 pm

    I loved The King Must Die. I thought it was great how Renault was able to plausibly show (to me anyway) how the myth might have had its origins.

    I’ve read the second book in the Alexander Trilogy, The Persian Boy, which I liked alot but not as much as the Thesus story.

    • whatmeread March 29, 2019 / 12:33 am

      She’s good at making the myths plausible.

  4. Jane March 29, 2019 / 12:58 pm

    I haven’t read a trilogy for ages and it’s so great to get really involved isn’t it?!

    • whatmeread March 29, 2019 / 2:24 pm

      Sometimes, although some aren’t as good as others.

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