Melissa Scott, A choice of Destinies

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Review and description by FicusFan:
This is an historical fantasy that is also an alternate history. The premise is that Alexander the Great never made it into India. He was called home to deal with an uprising and then he went west to Rome instead. That is the alternate part.

The fantasy part is that the gods are real and appear to Alexander in fevers and dreams. There is also a seer who brings him messages from the gods about choices he has to make. Its a very minor part of the story and can be seen as no different than modern people and their belief in religion.

Not going to India meant he didn't get the terrible final chest wound in India, Hephaestion didn't die, and they didn't end up in Babylon in the summer. Alex didn't eventually die of drink/poison/illness or a combination of all 3 in 323 BC.

Instead after he dealt with the uprising in Greece, Alex took on the Romans and won, there was no one who could out-general him. He then had to spend the rest of his time consolidating and pacifying his empire - which meant it was stable when he died.

Because of his principles religion was respected but not the driving factor in civilization, and there were no dark ages. The Alexandrian empire was still around in the 1500s and they were flying because scientific exploration and learning were given priority. They were in space in the 1700s.

Scott uses 2 changes to the history of Alex, before he is prevented from entering India: Thebes was never destroyed (they were needed to rise later with Athens and Sparta to draw him back to Greece) and he ends up with a son much sooner, so he is 10 years old when Alex returns to Greece.

Interestingly the dead Greek wife who is the child's mother is Eurydice and so I wonder if Scott has Alex marrying his father's newest wife (widow) and raising Philip's son (his half-brother) as his son and heir? Olympias is still around, but somehow she didn't kill them when Philip died ? Its never explained.

Neither is how Thebes survived explained, other than they postponed their treachery for about 10 years. I will say that Alexander respecting the Sacred Band rather than slaughtering them seems much better than reality.

The story looks at Alex and his Friends/Companions as they return to Greece, deal with the uprising, and then set out for Rome and deal with politics, and war there. I liked how the settings were done, and how the characters were developed and portrayed.

I thought the writing was a bit clunky, awkward and didn't quite make sense in some scenes. It wasn't terrible, but it was a problem that hovered over the book.

The other issue is that although this was ancient history, there were interlude chapters that followed the development of the empire after Alex's death. Each one was in a different place, a different time, and dealing with different issues. It was a good idea and interesting, but with the writing problems it made the story choppy.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting book. Apart from the changes in history it implies that the whole western (and world) changed due to Alexander. It makes leaps in the future where people with greek names are in charge of space battleships like "Buckefalus" and campaign in the same way Alexander did to other planetary systems!

    In my opinion it's more shience fiction and fantasy instead of historical but still a pretty interesting read!