Lisa (Harmonybites)'s Reviews > The King Must Die

The King Must Die by Mary Renault
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Feb 23, 11

bookshelves: favorites, historical-fiction, ultimate-reading-list, fiction, novels, ebooks
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Assigned in High School
Recommended for: Everyone
read count: 1

This book was assigned to me in high school, and after that I quickly read every historical novel by Renault I could get a hold of. It's certainly one of the books responsible for making me interested in both history and historical fiction.

Along with Robert Graves, Mary Renault is my gold standard in historical fiction--but especially Renault. I think because more than any other author, she gave me the sense that the people in other times, though complex and human, aren't simply moderns in strange dress. Renault's books were the first I can remember finding a sympathetic view of homosexuality. This isn't to the fore in this particular book focusing on the mythic figure of Theseus (probably why it was considered tame enough to be assigned to me in my Catholic High School), but I remember in my teens her depiction of a place and era that put no negative evaluation on homosexuality in novels such as The Last of the Wine and Fire from Heaven was a revelation to me, that yes, the past is a different country. I also remember that it took the pagan religion of the time seriously and treated it sympathetically--as just another system of belief. That too stood out to me.

This particular novel also made an impression on me because, like Mary Stuart's Crystal Cave about Merlin, it took a mythical figure I assumed was pure fantasy, and wrote a plausible tale grounding Theseus in the Late Bronze Age world and making him a real and appealing fleshed-out figure telling his own story in an engaging voice.

I highly recommend both this book and the sequel, The Bull From the Sea. And her novels of Alexander the Great starting with Fire from Heaven. And the picture of Socrates and Athens during Peloponnesian War in The Last of the Wine. Just all of her historical novels are excellent, gripping reads.
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