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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review of The Bow of Heaven, Book One

After an unconscionable delay, I'm finally posting my review of Andrew Levkoff's The Bow of Heaven, Book One: The Other Alexander -- A Novel of Ancient Rome.

This is an engrossing and often moving account of events during the latter days of the Roman Republic. The emotional center of the book is the narrator, Alexandros, a Greek slave trained in philosophy, who belongs to the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus. The focus shifts back and forth between key events in Roman history, in which Crassus participates, and the world of Crassus' household. The reader follows Alexandros' ongoing struggle to come to terms with his own enslavement, with all its implications, as gradually revealed both to the reader and to Alexandros himself.

Levkoff has vividly imagined the life of an intelligent man in a position of relative -- but not absolute -- powerlessness, always at risk of pain and degradation. He also examines how two men who might well have been friends in other circumstances interact when they find themselves in the position of master and slave. Crassus appreciates Alexandros' abilities and even, to some extent, his reluctance to be entirely servile, while exercising his prerogatives as Alexandros' master whenever it is in his interests. Alexandros develops some loyalty to and perhaps affection for Crassus, and is sometimes lulled into a sort of contentment, until events force him to confront the basic nature of their relationship.

Alexandros is given to lush, poetic, and often original descriptions of the world around him. These added to my pleasure as a reader, and while they were at times a mite obtrusive, they were still consistent with the narrator's character.

There's a short Preface relating how the narrative was supposedly discovered. This would be a good place for a bit more historical scene-setting. I know a little about the late Roman Republic, and still had some trouble getting my bearings; someone with no prior knowledge of the period could end up rather lost.

I downloaded the book quite a while before I read it, and in the intervening time forgot that it was a Book One. I hope Book Two will be out soon!

Here's the link to the Kindle edition on Amazon:

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