I stumbled into this six-book series by way of one of my favorite recent fantasy series, the Traitor Son Cycle by Miles Cameron. I noticed that, for some unknown reason, Cameron also wrote under the name of Christian Cameron, and had a series set in the time of Alexander the Great.
As one who knows way too much about that Hellenistic time period, and one who loved Cameron’s previous work, I was all in from the moment I started volume one, Tyrant. And as this is a connected series that really needs to be read in order to be appreciated, this review is of all six books considered as a whole, rather than a review of each book (though parenthetical notes will be appended for each).
The story covers about 30 years of ancient history, ending in 301 BCE at the Battle of Ipsos. Now if you already know who won the Battle of Ipsos, you will be a little too far ahead of the game, for much of the suspense of the series (which includes other historical events) will be lost – and you will also be surprised by some revisions Cameron makes in order to tell the story the way he wants to.
But the basic premise is this: Cameron inserts fictional, high-ranking characters into the complicated weave of Hellenistic history, and has them participate in events both major and minor. For the most part, this works extremely well, as Cameron’s grasp of the minutiae of Hellenistic life and his gritty sense of the bloody, painful and horrific cost of ancient warfare is superb. He is also an excellent writer, so the story moves along at a brisk pace, flagging only momentarily in the later volumes.
There are issues, of course. Like Star Trek, Kineas and Satyrus, the two main protagonists, are in the front lines way too often to be believed, especially in the later books, and their interactions with the major historical figures seem unnecessary, as if the editors insisted that somehow Kineas and Alexander are in contact, and so are Satyrus and various Hellenistic leaders.
Cameron, though, is perfectly willing to kill off major characters, and in sudden and unexpected ways, which adds a tremendous amount of tension to battle scenes and assassination attempts (unlike Star Trek). There’s also some magical realism thrown in, but any attempt to explain the plot would require much more patience than any reader of this review is likely to have.
But in short, Kineas, Satyrus and his woefully underutilized twin sister Melitta (why wasn’t she more prominent in the narrative?), all represent what we now consider Southern Russia, at the north of what we call the Black Sea. In those times, it was the place where the steppe nomads and expanding population of farmers and colonizers crossed paths, and it became a crucial part of the Hellenistic game of thrones given its ability to produce grain that the Mediterranean cities desperately needed to feed their people.
So Cameron tosses these characters, their soldiers and their grain into the Hellenistic mix, and in the end, comes up with a wonderful series that I enjoyed from start to finish. Then again, I love excellent historical fiction, and this is my favorite period, so I’m hardly unbiased. But I will say this: If you have even a passing interest in the world of Alexander the Great after his death, the Tyrant series is for you. I just wish there were more than six volumes.
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This volume is a serious shift of gears, and as such, takes time to build momentum. And new characters come onto center stage, and the suspension of disbelief they bring with them asks a lot. But Cameron settles back into the flow by book's end.
A sword and sandals epic that is entertaining. - The Weekend Gold Coast Bulletin
An action-packed tale of betrayal and revenge set amidst the war between Alexander the Great's generals, and climaxing in the most spectacular battle of the ancient world.