Carol's Reviews > The Persian Boy

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
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's review
Oct 11, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read from September 28 to October 11, 2011

Mary Renault is one of my favorite historical fiction authors, and this book was one of her best. It is about and narrated by Bagoas, a Persian who becomes a eunuch when his family is murdered and he is enslaved. He eventually becomes a sort of concubine to Darius and then lover to Alexander. His relationship with Alexander is one of real love and friendship, not of master and subject. The bulk of book concerns Bagoas' life with Alexander as he conquers the entirety of the middle east and part of India.
Renault has an absolutely wonderful talent for bringing the people of the ancient world to life. Figures like Darius and Alexander are warmly portrayed and made into complete, complex people rather than figures moving through a script of historical fact. Alexander himself is extremely vivid, both larger than life and very human. I always felt like I was reading about a real person, not a legend. Bagoas is also a very interesting character. I admired his ability to take the tragedy and humiliation of his early life and work with what it made him and where it placed him to build a satisfying and worthwhile life. I found his combination of sophistication and quasi-innocence really interesting, too. Despite Bagoas' experience with the Persian court, his relationship with Alexander countered any turn to jadedness or cynicism he might otherwise have had. Although at times, I did find it a little irritating how his love for Alexander never quite shed some adolescent qualities.
I very much liked the way Renault keeps the narrative focused on Alexander's relationships with individuals (Bagoas, various military leaders) and groups (his troops, the peoples he brings into his empire), rather than on battles and conquests. Otherwise, the story would have been really repetitive. This focus allows Renault to also look at how Alexander negotiated the cultural differences between the parts of his empire and how he tried to bring Persian, Macedonian, and Greek culture into a harmonious whole. Her choice of Bagoas as narrator really facilitates this, both because of his relationship with Alexander and his status as a eunuch. The fusing of narrative voice and thematic aims is extremely effective.

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