The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great. Stephanie Thornton. Penguin Group (USA). December 2015. 512 pp. ISBN#: 97800451472007.
What do we truly know about the man, Alexander the Great, who is known as the Macedonian soldier in Greece in the year 330 B.C who evolved into the hero who would “conquer the world?” Although readers will discover different answers to this question, including the reality of his immense ego, his sexual proclivities, his tendency to over-the-top cruelty within this novel, the vivid depiction of his life is presented by the diverse woman he encountered. This is the unique, powerful and poignant essence of this remarkable novel!
Meet Thessalonike, Alexander’s sister, who wants to travel on campaign. Her fascination with warfare is evident in the way she obsesses about becoming equal to any of Alexander’s soldiers. Her Amazon-like sister, Cynnane, finally agrees to train her and succeeds as will be proven in later scenes. Then there is Drypetis, the daughter of King Darius, who would love to be an engineer rather than someone’s wife. There’s something noble and dignified in her bearing that demands respect and leads others to bypass her outrageously offensive quips to everyone she meets. That may soften one iota, however, when she learns to love someone very close to Alexander. Move on to Roxana, the daughter of a nobleman who beats her at every opportunity. She is determined to marry and possess Alexander. Her goal eventually becomes maliciously misdirected in scenes that the reader could never have imagined, with dire consequences for everyone in this novel.
Alexander’s general, best friend since childhood, and lover, Hephaestion, is a captivating character who seems the only person who can elicit Alexander’s better self, even sometimes calming him before he can do something that Alexander’s soldiers will not forgive and forget. He also falls in love with Drypetis but is constantly frustrated that she fails to realize his care and instead regales him with verbal abuse and questions.
Multiple scenes of battles in which Alexander’s genius wins the day are juxtaposed with other stories about tenderness, abominable cruelty, depravity, betrayal, and noble efforts at rebuilding conquered cities abound. Some minor characters collaborate to effect major changes in both people and places.
This reviewer has the highest respect for Stephanie Thornton, who has graced us with novels about Theodora of Byzantium, the woman in the world of Genghis Khan and his family, and now the woman in Alexander the Great’s world. The Conqueror’s Wife… is superb historical fiction written by a highly skilled historian/writer who knows her subjects well and excels at presenting intricate and intimate details, personalities, passions and conflicts. Highly, highly recommended historical fiction meriting numerous accolades!