Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Conqueror's Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great by Stephanie Thornton

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: December 11, 2015

330s, B.C.E., 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… 

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Stephanie Thornton’s The Conqueror's Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great represents a significant challenge for me as a reviewer. I don’t want to gush and say it’s amazing because no one believes commentary that is one hundred percent positive, but I can’t identify a single aspect of the book that I disliked. My coffee deprived brain has also rendered me temporarily inarticulate so I apologize in advance for what is sure to be overt admiration relayed in language that is far too elementary to do justice to the novel in question.  

I imagine writing multiple narrators is maddening, but I love the tones Thornton is able to strike in approaching this story from multiple points of view and how the chorus of voices contrast one another as Alexander’s story unfolds. Despite constantly shifting perspectives, Thornton manages to keep each voice unique and I thought that lent a genuinely authentic quality to each characterization. It’s clear that each narrator has a story and Thornton’s effort to illustrate each individual as a distinct and separate entity creates a narrative that is deliciously addictive. On a similar note, I also love that Thornton chose not to write from Alexander's point of view. The decision emphasizes the idea that Alexander did not make himself. His legend has eclipsed the contributions of those who helped him achieve greatness, but Thornton’s thesis is that this was not a solo journey and I think choosing to write about his interactions and relationships went a long way in driving that idea home. 

Thornton’s fierce devotion to historical accuracy is another reason I love her books and The Conqueror's Wife is no exception. I can’t imagine the effort that goes into recreating an ancient time and place, but Thornton’s richly drawn descriptions immerse her audience in Alexander’s world and allows them a comprehensive understanding the culture and landscape of his kingdom. As an author, I’m half convinced Thornton beats herself to a pulp working out the details, but as I reader I find the depth and dimension of her books creative and enthralling. 

Few authors have been able to capture political maneuvering in ways that engage me. Chadwick and Quinn jump to mind, but Thornton rounds out the group with her passionate portrayal of the power struggles that defined Alexander’s life. Please excuse my phrasing, but how an author illustrates the bureaucratic bullshit that plays out behind the scenes of any ruler can make or break a book. The author must possess a thorough understanding of the material and they must present it with enough complexity to be believable while retaining enough clarity to avoid confusion. Few can do this effectively, but I feel Thornton’s mastery of the technique clearly evidenced in her latest release.

I fell platonically in love with Hephaestion and despite all odds the wicked side of me adored Roxana. I admired Thessalonike and was charmed by Drypteis. The Conqueror's Wife was an ambitious undertaking in terms of subject, but the intrigue and drama Thornton creates within these pages is historic fiction at its absolute best. A gripping tale of war, danger, love, determination and intrigue.

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We were murders and poisoners, innocents and warrior. And without us, Alexander would have only been a man. Instead, he was a god.
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