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Publisher's Summary

Alexander the Great died at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind an empire that stretched from Greece and Egypt to India.

After Alexander's death in 323 B.C. his only direct heirs were two unborn sons and a simpleton half-brother. Every long-simmering faction exploded into the vacuum of power. Wives, distant relatives and generals all vied for the loyalty of the increasingly undisciplined Macedonian army. Most failed and were killed in the attempt. For no one possessed the leadership to keep the great empire from crumbling. But Alexander's legend endured to spread into worlds he had seen only in dreams.

©1981 Mary Renault (P)2014 Audible Studios

Critic Reviews

"Renault's skill is in immersing us in their world, drawing us into its strangeness, its violence and beauty . . . a literary conjuring trick . . . so convincing and passionately conjured" ( The Times)
"The Alexander Trilogy stands as one of the most important works of fiction in the 20th century . . . it represents the pinnacle of [Renault's] career . . . Renault's skill is in immersing us in their world, drawing us into its strangeness, its violence and beauty. It's a literary conjuring trick like all historical fiction - it can only ever be an approximation of the truth. But in Renault's hands, the trick is so convincing and passionately conjured." (Antonia Senior, The Times)

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Postmortem of an Empire and the Dream that United

Any additional comments?

Funereal Games is the story of what happened to Alexander the Greats vision, dreams, and empire after his death in Babylon in 323 BCE.

Fire from Heaven, the first book of the series we meet Alexander the boy and watch him grow to manhood. There he is torn between his mystical mother, Olympia, and his father Philip II of Macedon. The parents do not get along is an understatement. During his formative years he falls under the influence of his teacher Aristotle and develops his own way of independent thinking. Here he also forms his life long bonds with his companions and the army of Macedon. Book one ends with the parental conflict resolved by the assassination of his father Phillip the II and Alexander’s succession by election of the army to the throne of Macedon.

In the second book, The Persian Boy, the prospective shifts to a more interment, fly on the wall way, in the person of the eunuch Bagoas. It is through his eyes one comes to see the conquest of Alexander and appreciate the vision to create an empire of many peoples and unify the competing warring empires and his attempt end the xenophobia between the peoples. This book ends with Alexander’s death leaving behind two pregnant wives, a mentally challenged acknowledged half-brother, and an older unacknowledged half-brother Ptolemy. The scene depicted at Alexander’s death resembles the activity and disarray that takes place when one kicks over an ant hill.

Funereal Games, book three, picks up the story through the eyes of Ptolemy. He was one of the generals under Alexander that functioned like a team of chariot horses all pulling in consort to a common end. But now the rains are loosed. The steading and guiding hand of the charioteer is dead. The generals are all thrashing and grabbing for power to become the guardian of the unborn children of Alexander or to place the simpleton half-brother on the thorn by calling him Philip III and rule through manipulation. There also develops a struggle to control the embalmed body of Alexander on its way back to Macedon for burial. The body has become a political symbol far too important to be treated like just any other king. The book goes on to describe the fate of Alexander’s unborn children, his wives, the simple half-brother, his mother Olympia, Bagoas from book two, the various generals that strived for power and to control various portions of the empire.

The book ends with an elderly Ptolemy, in his library room, speaking to his second son, to whom he has turned over the running of Egypt, indicating he has just finished his history book of Alexander to set the record straight and put lie to Alexander’s detractors. This scene foreshadows the founding of the great library of Alexandria by Ptolemy son. The scene also appears to be the inspiration to the opening scene of 2004 movie Alexander directed by Oliver Stone, with starring role going to Colin Ferrell. That movie appears to be a tip of the hat to Ms. Renault’s book.

As to my assessment of this book, I must preface it by saying I cannot look at it in isolation from the other two books that preceded it. Alexander has always been somewhat of an inspiring figure to me as well as other throughout the ages. It is said that Jules Cesar wept because by the time he conquered Gaul, Alexander had conquered the known world. In the first book one comes to appreciate the forces that shaped Alexander from boy into manhood. The second book is a much more intimate look at a superior inspiring character that is none the less human and has flaws. The final book is much more the story of how Alexander’s empire was disposed of by lesser men that did not have fire and the leadership to hold it all together. It is full of political intrigue and pay backs that were held in check while Alexander lived. Yes Alexander was the glue that held it all together. The center does not hold and, indeed, things did fall apart as another reviewer observed. However, more importantly, Ms. Renault has quite a talent for making the dead past come alive. And not just in her Alexander series. I do recommend Funereal Games to the listener, as well as the preceding two books in order to get a complete and satisfying experience.

I can also recommend Ms. Renault’s books the “King Must Die” (The classic story of the young Theseus Slaying the Minotaur) and the “Bull from the Sea” (This is tale of Theseus's triumphant return from Crete to become King of Athens) currently available on audible.

Finally, to the good people that run Audible: Please secure the rights to offer the last five history, and/or Greek mythology based books Ms. Renault has written.
1. “The Nature of Alexander” is billed as an actual history book. This would be a good companion listen to her three novels based on Alexander.
2. “Lion in the Gateway” is the authors telling of the heroic battles of the Greeks and Persians at Marathon, Salamis, and Thermopylae.
3. “The Mask of Apollo” this story is set in the Greek city state in Syracuse. There the struggle for good government through philosophy verses tyranny play out. Ms. Renault gives the reader a look into the intellectual life of the Greek symposium.
4. “The Praise Singer” this book is a portrayal of Simonides, the poet as he learns to master his craft and secure fickle patrons.
5. “The Last of the Wine” is set in Athens during the Peloponnesian War. The story is told by a young aristocrat named Alexias.

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Mary Renault makes Ancient Greece come alive again!

35 years ago, I flew through all Mary Renault’s books, they inspired me to study classics in College, save money and travel to Greece. Although I took up another profession, I re-read her books every so many years. This time I listened to her 3 on Alexander and WOW! I feel in love with the ancient world all over, wondering how I could have left it. If you enjoy mythology, history and Alexander the Great, get ready for a great read!

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Excellent ending but disappointingly short.

Excellent ending but disappointingly short. Loved the trilogy & recommend it to anyone who enjoys their history. Just be ready for an abrupt 9 chapter finale.

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Last of an epic trilogy

So difficult to stop. This is the last in an epic series. Drama and intrigue from the beginning. Very well done.

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Funeral Game of Thrones

While the first book of Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great trilogy, Fire from Heaven (1969), depicts Alexander’s youth and ends with the death of his father, and the second, The Persian Boy (1972), recounts Alexander’s Asian conquests and ends with his death, the third, Funeral Games (1981), deals with the aftermath of his death, depicting how his empire, as the priests put it, fragmented like a meteor fallen to earth.

Alexander’s final breath at 32 throws his empire into “the uncertainties of the shattered future.” The unique man (endowed with a fire from heaven!) has died after conquering in several years a vast empire, including Greece, Egypt, and much of Asia all the way into parts of India. Before dying, he’d tried to unite his Macedonian men with those they conquered, especially the Persians, by adopting Persian customs, incorporating Persians into his armies, and marrying his generals to Persian noble women and himself to Persian princesses. His death threatens all that fragile cross-culturalism, for in their “victor’s pride and xenophobia” most of the Macedonians hated Alexander’s adoption of the “barbarians” and their customs. Furthermore, Alexander died before he could name a successor and before his two mutually hostile pregnant wives (Bactrian chieftain’s daughter Roxane and Persian princess Stateira) could give birth. He did apparently give his ring to one of his generals, Perdikkas, to act as a regent, but the ambitious man is not well liked. Another general, Ptolemy, who was Alexander’s bastard half-brother and trusted blood-brother, is setting his sights on Egypt and Alexander’s divine corpse. Some think that Alexander wanted Krateros, another general he trusted, to succeed him, but before the king fell ill, he sent the man with some veterans back to Macedon to replace the regent there, Antipatros. Antipatros’ vile son Kassandros, who has enviously hated Alexander all his life, has seemingly played a role in facilitating Alexander’s death and is eager to rule Macedonia. And then there is Alexander’s half-brother Arridaios, simple and epileptic: good puppet king material.

Still more. Whenever Renault is depicting events in one arena, Asia in the first half of the novel or in Macedonia in the second half, related developments in the other arena are brewing offstage. Alexander’s “gorgon” mother Olympias has been intriguing against Antipatros while Alexander has been off in Asia, and his younger sister Kleopatra wants to become the queen of a new king like, for instance, Perdikkas. And Alexander’s amazon-like half-sister Kynna and her amazon-like daughter Eurydike have been tossing their javelins and planning to go to Asia so Eurydike may become queen by marrying Arridaios.

The complex and volatile situation makes Renault’s novel suspenseful. And all of the intrigue and infighting shows how special Alexander was to have been able to keep it all together for so long. As one character put it, “Alexander contained us all.”

Renault narrates from the points of view of multiple characters, including all of the above-mentioned players in the funeral games (except for Krateros), as well as Babylonian priests, Alexander’s secretary Eumenes, the mother of Darius Sisygambis, a phalanx captain, a harem eunuch, a Persianized Macedonian satrap, and even briefly the Persian boy Bagoas who narrated the second book. All the many points of view are compelling. Although many of her characters, like Roxane, Olympias, and Kassandros, do atrocious things, they all have human motivations: there are no cardboard villains. Renault does make us root for Ptolemy, who is strong, practical, and loyal and knows that no one can slip into Alexander’s shoes. She even gets us to sympathize with Roxane remembering Alexander:

“After, he had fallen asleep; she remembered the fair boyish skin with the deep dimpled scars, the soft margins of his strong hair. She had wanted to feel and smell him as if he were good to eat, like fresh-baked bread. When she buried her face in him, he half-woke and held her comfortably, and slept again. The sense of his physical presence came back to her like life. At last, alone, in silence, she shed real tears.”

As in her other two Alexander books, Renault writes great historical fiction. She writes psychologically complex and historically convincing characters. She makes history seem contingent and suspenseful. She writes striking similes (e.g., “She knew moderation no more than a hunting leopardess,” and “Tears ran from his eyes in silence like blood from an open wound”). She writes lines of wisdom for any era (e.g., “It was well to know that war was not all flags and trumpets,” and “Like other men who have indulged a long, rancorous hate, he blamed all adversity upon its object, never considering that his hatred, not his enemy had created his predicament”). She writes vivid descriptions that insert the reader into the era of her history and into the scenes of her story, as in the opening paragraph:

“The ziggurat of Bel-Marduk had been half-ruinous for a century and a half, ever since Xerxes had humbled the gods of rebellious Babylon. The edges of its terraces had crumbled in landslides of bitumen and baked brick; storks nested on its ragged top, which had once held the god’s golden bedchamber and his sacred concubine in his golden bed. But this was the only defacement; the ziggurat’s huge bulk had defied destruction. The walls of the inner city by the Marduk Gate were three hundred feet high, but the ziggurat still towered over them.”

It’s not a perfectly satisfying novel. Renault gives some figures and developments short shrift. Kleopatra disappears without explanation, and the actual ultimate division of the empire is left unexplained. Although we learn the fates of many of the funeral games players, especially the early losers, we do not learn much if anything about what happened to Alexander’s generals who went on to found new dynasties in different parts of his empire, like Seleucus, Antigonus, and Lysimachus. The first chapter, 323 BC, in which Alexander dies, is the longest and strongest in the novel, because it fully captures the chaotic vacuum he left.

In any case, the book is an impressive, immersive conclusion to her Alexander trilogy, and the audiobook is finely read by Brian May.

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brilliant

memorable characters, compelling plot, and consequences that make sense. Renault has really brought this ancient take to life.

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  • Petra
  • 06-08-17

Testament to succession planning

Probably not as good as the other books in the trilogy mainly because the story does become very complicated as factions break up and set about killing each other and seizing power. Having said that the book is hugely enjoyable and well read.

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  • Mark Brown
  • 04-22-21

epic conclusion to Alexander Alexander series

Roger May is on great form again with excellent pacing and gravitas for the epic sweep of events described after Alexander's death. It's like 'Game of Thrones' with the plots, power grabs, and shifts of power. Renault's book shows how Alexander is still the central character even after his death and so this book is the fitting end to a great trilogy. Renault also gives us a sense of the impact all this had on the lives and experiences of the soldiers and common folk as well as the main protagonists.