In Fire from Heaven, Mary Renault followed the career of the young
Alexander the great, up to his accession when he was twenty. In The
Persian Boy, we meet him six years later and follow him to his death
in a superbly moving narrative told by his young lover and companion,
Bagoas, a real historical person, who may well have influenced history.
For the beautiful slave-boy Bagoas, bought plaything of Darius the
Persian King, the invader's brilliant victories are at first mere palace
rumor. Then, at the battle of Gaugamela, the empire crumbles about its
ill-fated, ineffectual ruler. After his death, Bagoas, adrift and
destitute, is rescued by a rebel satrap suing for pardon, brought as a
peace-offering to Alexander, and taken into his household.
Alexander is a man with little experience of sensuality, but a profound
need of affection. Bagoas' famous beauty has been much exploited, but
his affection has been needed by no one. Their meeting is irresistible to
The adventures of Alexander's last seven years, some stirring, some
tragic, are thus told by Bagoas, an expert courtier and courtesan,
sophisticated far beyond his years, boyish only in his devotion. It is a
tale rich in historical insight and detail, especially in Bagoas' view of
Alexander's growing sympathy with his Persian subjects, a markedly
different view from that of the victorious Macedonians, jealous of their
status as master race.
In a bold shift of narrator and style, Mary Renault finishes here her
story of Alexander, leaving us with an incomparable picture of the
conqueror and his world, and a picture of human involvement and affection
that is rare in the art of fiction about the past.