A historical fiction about Alexander the Great from the viewpoint of the women in his life.
I have mixed feelings about this one. I read it, well devoured it really, in just a few sittings. It falls right into the type of historical fiction that I love: pre-1700’s time period about mythological/royal persons. The Conqueror’s Wife is very readable.
The thing is, and the author wrote this too in her afterword, Alexander’s personal life, outside of his military conquests, generals, and favorite horse, is so shadowy that Thornton could have written this book really however she wanted. I loved that she focused on the females in Alexander’s life because, of all of the people from that time period, they received the least attention from historians. However, I feel that she did some of them, Roxana and Olympias in particular, a great disservice in her interpretation.
Remember, women had no rights at this time. Marriage was either a matter of wealth or position. Love didn’t enter the equation until the medieval troubadour tales of the 1200’s.
After his many, many successes on the battlefield, somewhere very far from home, Alexander takes a wife from among the ‘barbarians’ that he and his friends were working very hard to conquer. All that we know about this woman (Roxana) was written down or remembered by the very people who killed her after Alexander’s untimely demise. Why earth would he have married a woman with no connections or a ‘whore’? He wouldn’t have.
Let’s just take the facts: Alexander dies and then most of his wives are dead soon thereafter. From that, I would say that Roxana is one of the least likely people to have committed either of those crimes because all of her power stemmed from Alexander. I suspect strongly that Alexander’s Companions, the ones who were left after years of campaigning had taken its toll, were the culprits. How easy would it have been for them to spread the rumors about Olympias and Roxana as Dionysian witches and whores to explain to posterity why they were slaughtered. Alexander’s generals had the most to gain, an entire empire, by discrediting these women.
And, if Olympias was the master manipulator that she is portrayed as in this, then why wasn’t she able to protect herself or her grandson after Alexander’s death? I think it is because she had neither the resources nor the ability to do so, which means, that she wasn’t what history recorded her to be at all. She was a victim of the fallout after her son’s death just like Alexander’s wives.
Anyway, if I had been Thornton and written this book, I would have made each and every female character a hero. History is recorded by the victors and the powerful. The women deserved, if not a happy, then at least an honorable ending.
If you enjoyed this book, you may want to read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant or anything by Kate Quinn or Margaret George.
I received this book through the Good Reads First Reads program. Thanks for reading!