A guest review by Charlie Cochrane
The story of the climactic last seven years of Alexander the Great’s life through the eyes of his lover, Bagoas. Abducted and gelded as a boy, Bagoas was sold as a courtesan to King Darius of Persia, but found freedom with Alexander after the Macedon army conquered his homeland. Taken as an attendant into Alexander’s household, the beautiful young eunuch becomes the great general’s lover and their relationship sustains Alexander as he survives assassination plots, the demands of two foreign wives, a mutinous army, and his own ferocious temper.
This book took me forever to read, but not for the usual reasons – that it’s some disappointing tome that ends up mouldering half read on your beside table. With The Persian Boy, I kept going back over parts I’d already read, savouring the wonderful prose and characterisations. It’s a much easier read than the rather confusing sequel, Funeral Games, with its plethora of characters. The only problem with The Persian Boy is that it’s too short by at least half.
Written entirely from Bagoas’ point of view, the book is alive with simple yet effective descriptions of place and era. Mary Renault’s characterisations are, as always, a delight; she produces deep insights into the key players with just a few well constructed phrases. She captures wonderfully the duality of Alexander – military leader/man and proto-God – as she does the ‘almost love affair’ between him and his army. She doesn’t shrink from showing his feet of clay, even if the tale is told through the eyes of someone besotted with him. Renault’s skill is also evident in the way that, although Bagoas tells his own story, we are aware of his faults and weaknesses, even if he isn’t.
The key turning point of the story is when Bagoas meets Alexander, where autobiography turns to romance. He falls headlong for the Macedonian king, dedicating his life to the man’s love and service. Alexander’s tender response and the developing relationship is beautifully portrayed – the love scenes aren’t in any way explicit, but written with such skill that they’re still sensual. I know that Renault has been criticised for romanticising the relationship between king and eunuch, but Bagoas’ motivation and actions ring true to life, and he’s as believable as all the other characters woven in and out of the tale. This isn’t a history book – it’s a well crafted and incredibly moving historical romance
According to the reviewer, author Charlie Cochrane, “in Persian Boy Bagoas has an unsuccessful liaison with a female prostitute and Alexander’s relations with his wife are referred to, although not in any great detail.” Since The Persian Boy is a classic and the author Mary Renault is an icon, I decided to post the review on the site even though there is brief M/F interaction in the book. In future, reviews of classic M/M books will be posted where, on occasion, the books may not be “pure” M/M. This exemption is only for classic M/M books. In case anyone is interested The Persian Boy was first published in 1972 by Prentice Hall Press.
Thanks to Charlie, Erastes and Speak its Name for allowing this joint posting.