We are the women who loved Alexander the Great. We were lovers and murderers, innocents and soldiers. And without us, Alexander would have been only a man. Instead, he was a god.
330s BCE, Greece: Alexander, a handsome young warrior of Macedon, begins his quest to conquer the ancient world. But he cannot ascend to power, and keep it, without the women who help to shape his destiny.
His spirited younger half-sister, Thessalonike, yearns to join her brother and see the world. Instead, it is Alexander's boyhood companion who rides with him into war while Thessalonike remains behind. Far away, crafty princess Drypetis will not stand idly by as Alexander topples her father from Persia's throne. And after Alexander conquers her tiny kingdom, Roxana, the beautiful and cunning daughter of a minor noble, wins Alexander’s heart…and will commit any crime to secure her place at his side.
Within a few short years, Alexander controls an empire more vast than the civilized world has ever known. But his victories are tarnished by losses on the battlefield and treachery among his inner circle. And long after Alexander is gone, the women who are his champions, wives, and enemies will fight to claim his legacy…
So I think everybody knows by now that I adore Stephanie Thornton's novels. And I got to meet her and tell her so in person at the Historical Novel Society conference back in June! Her previous three books have been fantastic, especially The Tiger Queens. But I must admit, when I saw the subject of her next book, I thought, "Oh, man, why Alexander? He's such a cheap guy!" (To quote one of my favorite movies :) He's definitely not one of my favorite historical figures, and honestly that terrible movie with Colin Farrell probably helped cement that opinion. But Alexander is really just a supporting player in this novel as we see him through the eyes of those around him: his sister, his best friend, his captive, and his future wife.
Stephanie Thornton is a master of creating dimensional characters that dig their way into the reader's heart, and she's at the top of her game in that respect with this book. I'm not going to go too much into plot so as not to spoil any surprises. Readers may have an overall familiarization with the highs and lows of Alexander's life, but this is really the story of those who surrounded him, and their stories are relatively unknown. I relished learning about them and the triumphs and hardships in their lives. Hephaestion, my favorite, gives the reader the most intimate glimpse of Alexander and also the most unfavorable since he witnesses aspects of Alexander's personality that many others don't. That he is able to root out the underlying causes of such behavior, see past it, and continue loving his best friend anyway is to his credit, as are the instances in which he tries to stop Alexander from going too far. He suffers no illusions about the man who thinks he's a god, yet he suffers from some of Alexander's actions all the same, although occasionally he benefits, which brings me to my next favorite character, Drypetis.
Drypetis is the younger daughter of King Darius, captured by Alexander along with her sister, mother, and grandmother. She represents the viewpoint of the people Alexander conquered. Though she hates Alexander with a passion, after long years in pampered captivity, she comes to grudgingly admit that he is at times brilliant, particularly when it comes to technology and architecture, two of her favorite subjects. She is definitely not your ordinary princess, much more of a sharp-tongued tomboy than a simpering miss, and I adored her. She bears much in common with Alexander's younger sister, Thessalonike, who is left behind with Alexander's infamous mother, Olympias, and witnesses firsthand the behind-the-scenes machinations of a ruling family ruthlessly protecting their position of power. She also spends much time in the company of her warrior sister, Cynnane, and her dreaded tutor, Cassander, who will play a larger role when Nike is finally allowed to join Alexander on campaign and who will play a larger role in history.
And finally we have Roxana, Alexander's first wife and the true villain of the story. Though when she is first presented, she is a very sympathetic character. An abused daughter of a grasping nobleman, she uses her only weapon, her beauty, to scratch out a better existence. The reader can totally understand where she's coming from and root for her to succeed until her ambition grows out of control and causes her to do some truly heinous things. I can honestly say I hated her guts by the end of this book.
And what an ending this book has! In the author's note, we learn that all of the insane things that happen in the final pages of this book in rapid succession actually occurred over a thirteen-year period. I'm okay with that. While it means that, in reality, the events were probably not as dramatic since they didn't occur right on each other's heels, in the book, it makes for one heck of a mind-spinning, emotional conclusion. I so want to give this book a full five stars because of all the feels. I cried at the end.
In Stephanie Thornton's previous books, I have found no flaws in her writing, but in this book, one of my biggest reading pet peeves is prevalent. I am not a fan of "forecasting," which is basically telling the reader to get ready for bad news ahead, and it's used rather liberally in this book. I don't like to be warned. I want to be smacked in the face with plot twists so the full emotional impact hits me. And I am concerned that the author made me admire a historical figure's character (Cassander, whose worth the reader sees long before Nike figures it out) when in reality it appears that he was not such a nice guy. One thing she doesn't mention in her note that I was looking for was some background info on Alexander's sexuality and how she decided to portray it, as it remains a source of controversy. I always like to get a glimpse into a writer's head to hear how they decided to tackle controversial or conflicting historical records.
But in spite of these little things, this is still a damned fine book. Rich in history, ambiance, drama, and emotion and filled with unforgettable characters, The Conqueror's Wife is a must-read for fans of ancient history and gripping, transporting historical fiction.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
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