Took me nearly two months, but it's DONE!

The Persian Boy - Mary Renault

Alexander the Great (or, according to my personal historian, as his title should be known, in its native tongue, "o Megas Alexandros") is absolutely an awe-inspiring person. When you put into perspective the time period, the cultures, and then think about the things Alexander did, it's absolutely extraordinary.

This is the story of Alexander's later life, as told through the eyes of his Persian "boy", Bagoas, who also (in this story and perhaps in real life) was his lover. Through Bagoas' eyes, we see Alexander's extraordinary feats, but we also see how human Alexander is - how he was flawed, how he tired, how he loved, how he raged.

Last year, I started "Fire from Heaven", the first book in the Alexander trilogy, and my thoughts were all over the place. Mostly, I recall the writing being a challenge to get through (probably because of all the crap young adult I had been reading up to that time where subtlety and complexity are taboo). But I did not find this the case at all with "The Persian Boy". I personally loved the first person past tense used here - even more so because Renault executes it PERFECTLY!

First person is very chic these days, and it can be used well. It's plopping right into the head of your narrator and seeing and feeling and experiencing everything he or she does. That can be awesome - but it can also be limiting, ESPECIALLY for historical novels, or novels where something important happens away from the narrator.

"Eclipse" combated that with a cheesy "Bella is asleep but in her dreams hears Edward and Jacob talk about her" scene. Other novels have characters butt themselves in where they don't belong, miraculously receive information that is just what the reader needs, a chain of messengers, have the narrator skip over that time period and summarize it, or the absolute worst, switch to third person past to relay the scene.

Renault never does that; Bagoas is a pretty prominent character, part of Alexander's court, so it makes sense he would know some of what he does. In the beginning, Bagoas is a lesser eunuch in Darius' court and therefore knows almost nothing about what is going on, unless he is busy asking others questions. I'm not really doing a great job of saying it, but what I mean is: Renault doesn't feel the need to mangle her story so that Bagoas can relay everything to the audience.

I would say most of the characters are very relatable and, most importantly, REAL. Bagoas had his moments where he annoyed me (I think part of him was just in love with being in love with someone), but overall, his story was interesting, compelling, heart-rending, and passionate. I loved how he didn't try to supersede Alexander - such as giving Alexander key advice how to win battles and crap - nor does he also do the other thing I hate in first person: make all the characters he doesn't like evil, wicked people.

Bagoas doesn't like Hephaistion because he wants to be the only one to love Alexander. (By the way, this is the part that aggravated me most about Bagoas, because I LOVED the way Renault wrote Hephaistion and Alexander - if we are going to do that silly "team" thing that got popularized in "Twilight", I am Team Hephaistion.) But at no point does it mean that Hephaistion is an evil guy. Nope, it is clearly Bagoas' opinion. And most authors wouldn't do that. When I read Phillipa Gregory's "The Other Boleyn Girl", it was clear that not only did Mary think Anne was evil (or Jane a busybody), but the author thought that Anne was evil, and Anne was, therefore, written as an evil woman.

There is a HUGE amount of STUFFS that happen in this book, making it a really long book. But unlike many really long books, it's not like there's a scene or a section where I can say, "The Author should have red-inked that". In fact, if anything, I think the author could have put MORE into it. For instance, Bagoas hints that he lives in Egypt with Ptolemy at the end - how does that happen? Did he create a relationship with Ptolemy? If so, I would have loved to see the conversations.

This really is an incredible book looking at the life of Alexander. For a moment, I got to see how MUCH he accomplished, and yet how much more he wanted to do. Renault's Alexander comes alive on the pages through Bagoas' eyes, showing him to be a vivacious, intelligent, larger-than-life man - and yet just a man still.

This is a pretty meaty book, and I found it better to enjoy in larger chunks than a page or two at a time. This, coupled with my occasional aggravation with Bagoas and my desire to leave that final star open for the final book in the series, is what causes this to be rated 4 stars instead of the full 5.