The best novels about Alexander the Great

Who am I?

Dr. Jeanne Reames is a professional historian, college professor, and specialist in ancient Macedonia and Alexander the Great. She also earned a degree in creative writing and has published fiction and poetry. She’s been collecting fiction about Alexander the Great for almost 35 years, and previously managed the website Beyond Renault: Alexander the Great in Fiction since WW I, until retiring it after over ten years. She has (almost) every professionally published English-language novel about Alexander, and has penned several articles on Alexander in fiction, including “Alexander the Great and Hephaistion in Fiction after Stonewall,” for The Routledge Companion to the Reception of Ancient Greek and Roman Sexuality (forthcoming).


I wrote...

Dancing with the Lion: Becoming

By Jeanne Reames,

Book cover of Dancing with the Lion: Becoming

What is my book about?

The story of Alexander before he became “the Great.” As the son of Philip, celebrated king of Macedon, Alexander must excel in all ways: be faster, smarter, stronger, and more courageous. Competition defines a man's fate in his world, loyalty rare and precious—but he finds it in Hephaistion, who accompanies him for lessons under the philosopher Aristotle. Hephaistion's friendship teaches him to trust his skills and become a leader of men.

Read the genesis of a legend, and of one of history’s most celebrated and enduring emotional bonds. “[A] well-told, if unexpected, coming-of-age story.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

The books I picked & why

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Fire from Heaven

By Mary Renault,

Book cover of Fire from Heaven

Why this book?

Any recommendation list of novels about Alexander must include Mary Renault, queen of Greek historical fiction. Fire from Heaven covers his childhood/youth and remains many readers’ initial introduction to him. Her knowledge of Greece, both the land and its history, is rich, and she was first to depict, in a positive way, Alexander’s relationship with Hephaistion as more than friendship. Ironically, the book’s publication coincided with the NYC Stonewall Riots in June of 1969. Yet however progressive her view of homoerotic attachments, she paints a troublingly misogynistic portrait of Alexander’s mother Olympias. The book contains a few errors as several critical archaeological discoveries were 10+ years in the future, but historical novelists can’t be faulted for forthcoming finds. Her second novel about Alexander, The Persian Boy, was published in 1972.


Lord of the Two Lands

By Judith Tarr,

Book cover of Lord of the Two Lands

Why this book?

Opting to cover just a slice of Alexander’s campaign, Judith Tarr treats the period after the Battle of Issus down to his fateful trip to the Oracle of Ammon in Egypt. Being historical fantasy, magic is present, but Tarr (a trained historian) depicts it as understood by the ancient Egyptians. An Egyptian priestess, Meriamon, has been charged by her gods to bring Alexander to Egypt in order to eject the hated Persians and preserve her people. The novel also contains a love story between Meriamon and the fictional younger brother of Ptolemy—the same Ptolemy who would found a dynasty in Egypt after Alexander’s death. Lord of the Two Lands is a master class in how to utilize magic for historical fantasy in an authentic way.


Stealing Fire

By Jo Graham,

Book cover of Stealing Fire

Why this book?

Although Stealing Fire takes place during the early Successor Wars that followed Alexander’s death, it contains enough flashbacks to qualify as about Alexander too. Or really, about Hephaistion, whose presence is stronger. Like Renault and Tarr, Graham depicts Hephaistion’s relationship with Alexander as more than friendship. Her main character Lysias began as Hephaistion’s groom, then became an officer under his command. Lysias hero-worships Hephaistion. After Hephaistion’s, then Alexander’s, deaths, he falls under the command of Ptolemy, helping him to establish the Ptolemaic empire in Egypt. Like Tarr, Graham does very well at showing magic as conceived of in the ancient world, but she also writes a mean battle scene—of which there are several. Her Hephaistion is one of the most engaging in print.


A Choice of Destinies

By Melissa Scott,

Book cover of A Choice of Destinies

Why this book?

Melissa Scott has written the best “What would’ve happened if Alexander didn’t die?” alternate history. It’s a popular question among historians, but usually assumes he survived his final illness. Scott takes a different tack, choosing instead to diverge some years before his death. Here, he returns from Asia to put down a revolt in Greece. After that, he goes west, against first Rome, then Carthage. Although the characters aren’t as fleshed out as in some of her later military SF (this was an early work), her grasp of military maneuvers and politics, for which she would later earn attention, is on full display. It’s a viable tale of what might have happened, had Alexander decided to take on Rome, or Carthage, at that point in their histories.


A Conspiracy of Women

By Aubrey Menen,

Book cover of A Conspiracy of Women

Why this book?

“And now for something completely different,” I offer some satiric whimsy from Indo-Irish author Aubry Menen. He belonged to Renault’s generation, not Tarr’s, Graham’s, or Scott’s. This novel, published in 1965, is historical allegory rather than historical fiction. Menen changes historical events in order to suit his plot and message, which is to poke fun at British presumption. The result is a delightfully wicked parallel between the arrogant and ethnocentric Macedonians and the nineteenth-century imperialistic Brits, set against a far older Indian culture. Yet Menen didn’t spare the self-righteousness of Indian brahmins and rajas, either. Menen spares no one. While usually accused of misogyny, the women here are screamingly funny in their (legitimate) bitchiness, but Hephaistion gets the best lines. This book deserves a wider readership.


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