Gerry Burnie's Reviews > The King Must Die

The King Must Die by Mary Renault
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Jan 21, 12

bookshelves: fantasy, gay-fantasy, gay-history, gay-literature, homosexual-content
Read from October 25 to December 22, 2011

Gerry B's Book Reviews - http://gerrycan.wordpress.com

The name Mary Renault is almost iconic in my past, for her Nature of Alexander (1975) was the first book that dealt with homosexuality I had ever found, and as such it was like finding the Holy Grail. This was quickly followed by Fire From Heaven (1969) and The Persian Boy (1972), and just about anything I could get my hands on that had Mary Renault’s name on it.

The King Must Die [Vintage, 1988 (originally published by Pantheon Books, 1958)] was somewhere in there, so re-reading this classic was like a pilgrimage back in time.

It is probably the most main-stream of Renault’s books, at least the ones I have read. Like most classical Greek characters Theseus is capable of deep love for his comrades, but unlike most it doesn’t extend to sex. Given the tenor of the times, however, this is quite understandable if it was to be published at all.

The story more-or-less follows Theseus’ heroic rescue of the enslaved Greek youths from Crete and the mythical Minotaur, but Renault has avoided a mere repetition by adhering to what could be archaeologically supported. Nonetheless, it still retains the marvellously exotic and colourful nuances of the myth by its inclusion of gods, goddesses and witches.

Moreover, by humanizing the mythical elements—his acquiring the bona fide kingship of Eleusis, becoming identified as the son and heir of the king of Athens, and especially the humanizing of the Minotaur as Asterion, the sinister and power-hungry son of Minos (king of Crete)—she has made it all seem plausible.

As a writer of historical fiction myself, I believe the two things I admire most about Renault’s writing is her character development, and the way she weaves the various elements together into a seamless whole. For example, this story takes Perseus from his childhood through five stages of his life, each a complex story in itself, and yet it never loses the central thread from beginning to end. That is the signature of a masterful writer, and which made Renault a legend in her own time.

This novel is not for those who are looking for explicitly gay content, and certainly not erotica of any kind, but if you admire a well-told story in the classical-style, this tale is for you. Five bees.
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10/25/2011 page 179
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