The Persian Boy traces the last years of Alexander's life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas is sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but finds freedom with Alexander the Great after the Macedon army conquers his homeland.
Their relationship sustains Alexander as he weathers assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a sometimes mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper. After Alexander's mysterious death, we are left wondering if this Persian boy understood the great warrior and his ambitions better than anyone.
"Mary Renault's portraits of the ancient world are fierce, complex and eloquent, infused at every turn with her life-long passion for the Classics. Her characters live vividly both in their own time, and in ours" (Madeline Miller)
"All my sense of the ancient world - its values, its style, the scent of its wars and passions - comes from Mary Renault. I turned to writing historical fiction because of something I learned from Renault: that it lets you shake off the mental shackles of your own era, all the categories and labels, and write freely about what really matters to you" (Emma Donoghue)
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- Carol "Genre fiction, trashy to literary--mystery, action, sci fi, fantasy, and, yes, even romance. Also history. Listener reviews help a lot!"
The Persian Boy begins with a bang
He is an excellent reader
Bagoas, the Persian boy, and point of view narrator of Alexander’s life in Persia, Egypt, the Middle East, and India, begin with a bang. The 10 year old boy, son of a minor Persian noble, is whiteness to his father’s betrayal then murder, his mother’s suicide, the loss of his sisters, followed by his enslavement by the killers leading to worse. He is bought by a jeweler as a servant for his wife. As time passes, when the jeweler falls on hard times his owner begins to pimp him out for extra income. The boy comes to the notice of a royal courtesan who buys him from the jeweler and trains him in the arts of pleasuring the new Master, Darius III, before he enters service. It is then that be begins to tell the tale of Alexander as he crosses to Asia and defeats his owner Darius in several battles. The plot then takes a few twists and turns until at 15 years old he enters service with Alexander the Great. Alexander will not have him as a bedmate or see him as property simply to use as he will. The boy, now man by the standards of the age, first serves as a valet and chamber man, then as an advisor on Persian custom and manors on his new subjects, and finally wins the place of loved one from Alexander. From that vantage point he offers a unique fictional prospective to tell the story of Alexander from his conquests of lands including western India, his marriages, and his hopes and dreams of fusing Greek culture unto a Persian Empire he is to govern, and betrayal assassination plots and the death of the man nearest to his heart. All this is told through the eyes of faithful Bagoas up through Alexander’s death in Babylon at age 33. What happens next falls to the last book in the trilogy Funereal Games.
As a modern people there are aspects of this book that are disturbing. One must suspend our modern moral disgust and remember that this is an age where slaves had no rights, might made right, a male achieved manhood at and 15 or 16 unless he killed a man in battler at an earlier age. All life’s stages are accelerated as life expectancy was around 40, if you were lucky. At this stage there were no Christian values as Christ will not be born for another 300 plus years. The Jews were grateful to Alexander as he allowed free worship at the Temple. This book is set in a brawling polytheistic world of tribal loyalties, blood feuds, forbidden loves, where our norms simply do not apply.
For action and excitement with a slab dash of history this book is great. There is enough heroic action and daring do for any reader. There is also enough vision of uniting disparate peoples into a harmonious empire under Alexander’s fair and just kingship to make it inspiring.