Margaret's Reviews > The Mask of Apollo

The Mask of Apollo by Mary Renault
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's review
Jun 05, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: british-literature, historical-fiction, greeks, authors-qrs, 2011-read
Read from January 24 to 25, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Nikeratos is an actor in fourth century BC Greece, following in the footsteps of his famous father. Everywhere he performs, he brings a golden mask of Apollo, to which he goes for advice and guidance. After an impressive performance at Delphi, Niko meets Dion of Syracuse, who is a distinguished politician and a dear friend of Plato's, the inspiration for Plato's philosopher-king. Niko is drawn to Dion and because of this is also drawn into the political turmoil in Sicily after King Dionysios dies.

Renault is hands-down one of the best historical fiction writers I've read. Her sense of place is impeccable and seamless, nothing feels anachronistic, and her characters are perfectly of their time and place. She understands her setting so well that she can convey it to the reader without resorting to boring infodumps or overly long explanations in dialogue, or relying on the reader's knowledge of ancient Greece. Nearly all of her characters are historical (with the exception of Nikeratos himself), and her fictional portrayal of them chimes beautifully with their historical selves.

In The Mask of Apollo, Renault's use of an actor as the viewpoint character is brilliant. Niko understands how a crowd works, because he plays to them all the time, whereas the politicians, who ought to know, really don't. Yet Niko also understands what the politician-philosophers are trying to do, even as they can't quite accomplish it. The last little bit, where he meets Alexander and realizes that here is the student Plato needed and will never get, is simply perfect.
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08/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell This is one of my absolute favourites of hers (the other one being the Praise Singer).

Margaret I have that too! Maybe next month.

Jack Massa Excellent review. I totally agree.

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