Iset's Reviews > Lion of Macedon

Lion of Macedon by David Gemmell
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's review
Dec 25, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: hellenistic-age-400-to-30bce-fictio, historical-fantasy
Read from October 12 to 16, 2011 — I own a copy

I went into David Gemmell’s The Lion of Macedon off the back of having read his Troy trilogy, eager for more compelling readable, earthy retellings of history that characterise Gemmell’s style. In many ways, I enjoyed The Lion of Macedon as much, if not more, than Gemmell’s Trojan trilogy, however, there were a couple of points that I didn’t enjoy quite so much, but overall in the big picture I would say this was an enjoyable, worthwhile read, that I am probably going to pick up again at some point in the future.

I really enjoyed Gemmell’s writing style in the Trojan trilogy, it came across as solid, consistent, and whilst not exactly epic or high-flown, very earthy and grounded and compulsively readable. I liked the style of writing even more so here. It was less of a tale-by-the-fireside and more of a sweeping epic – and I am usually a sucker for books that present me with a well-written sweepingly epic kind of story. Moreover, the writing really sucked me into the story, and engaged me. I felt immersed in this Hellenistic world, and it felt largely authentic.

A lot hinged on the portrayal of Parmenion, and Gemmell really got it right. He’s just the right mix of identifiably sensible and empathetically good combined with a nice dash of compellingly dark. His character and personality, for me, really seemed to fit believably with the older Parmenion that shows up in the historical record, and as everyone knows that’s one of my big ticks in what I look for in historical fiction. It was also a nice bonus that Gemmell tackled Parmenion’s early life in this novel, which historically we know virtually nothing about, and I really enjoyed the experience of "uncovering" that tale of the early years. With the other characters too, Gemmell excels. The wonderful thing about Gemmell’s characterisations is that nobody seems to be whitewashed or blacklisted, instead we get various shades of grey, and even seemingly unlikable characters are revealed to have their own understandable (albeit not laudable) psychology and logic behind their actions.

What I didn’t enjoy so much was the veering off into fantasy. Those who know me know I’m not a big fan of historical fantasy – in part because I seek out historical fiction for a vivid reimagining of what really happened, but also in part because elements of historical fantasy tend to warp historical characters and can sometimes be offensive. In this case, I didn’t like the subplot of seeresses and possessions, but not because it warped or offended; the characters retain their personalities through the fantastical episodes, so in a way it was a little bit strange reading historical personalities carrying on as normal in a fantastical setting, like a mash up that just doesn’t fuse together. It was just a bit of a head-scratcher really, because the fantastical elements just weren’t necessary to the already engrossing and interesting story – the story, purely from its historical elements which make up the majority of the novel, really works as a solid, engaging tale; the fantastical elements seemed superfluous. That said, I wasn’t too bothered by this, because there was gratifying freedom from offensive character warping, and also the fantasy elements cropped up few and far between so most of the time I was engrossed in a thoroughly believable historical world.

It was really hard to rate this one. I felt that its historical elements were a shade better than Gemmell’s Troy trilogy, but the fantasy strand in the story just wasn’t necessary and I would have preferred it if it had been left out. This is actually a 3.5 stars from me.

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