Readers craving for a less common historical period need wait no longer. Judith E. French’s The Warrior, the final book in her Alexander the Great series, satisfies that craving and shows the Ancient World in an exciting, vibrant light.
Alexander, son of the Alexander the Great, supposedly makes it to adulthood and becomes a great warrior. He has accepted Pharaoh Ptolemy’s offer of a marriage to his daughter Mereret, seeing the political advantages of the union. After receiving a bust of her from Ptolemy, Alexander believes the union would be a physically desirable one, too. His mother Roxanne doesn’t trust Ptolemy, but Alexander assures her that he can handle the pharaoh. Once he brings his bride home, Alexander will be ready to assume the throne over the kingdoms of Bactria and Sogdiana.
It takes six months for him to arrive in Egypt with his soldiers. Though Ptolemy welcomes him, Queen Artakama, one of his wives and Mereret’s mother, greets Alexander with much less enthusiasm. She remains angry that her daughter has to tarnish their noble Egyptian bloodlines by marriage to a “barbarian prince.”
Alexander receives a surprising gift – a slave girl for his bed. Kiara instantly captivates him with her beautiful green eyes and unexpected poise. Though he delights in pleasuring her, Alexander goes forward with his nuptials, even after he hears warnings of possible treachery. Those warnings become reality when Alexander is savagely struck down on his wedding day under Ptolemy’s secret orders. The Egyptian army kills many of Alexander’s soldiers before Paris, an old friend of Alexander’s and now an Egyptian general can stop the slaughter. Alexander wakes up enclosed in a tomb and may have died there if not for a daring rescue by Kiara.
Alexander’s and Kiara’s subsequent adventures are just one of several plot threads running through The Warrior that involve other members of Alexander’s family – all of them engrossing. I appreciated the character growth of Alexander’s sister Shahi, from a princess who loathes her status to one who faces the dangers of her duties with courage. And I was deeply moved by Kayan, Alexander’s stepfather, and his desperate search for his eight-year-old daughter Ava (who is also Alexander’s sister) when ruthless marauders capture her. His decision as to whether or not to abandon his search until the warmth of spring was heart wrenching.
Because French spends as much attention on the secondary plots, the romance between Alexander and Kiara doesn’t receive enough development. Oh, their attraction to each other grows during their adventures together, but there aren’t enough emotional scenes to warrant the pretty declaration of love by Alexander at the end. Still, the romance is an unusual one in that in the beginning Alexander uses Kiara as a sexual toy with no qualms at all. Both of them realize a relationship between them would not benefit his future as a king. The way that Kiara reconciles their different stations in life to their love is quite noteworthy and admirable. Readers looking for an unconventional romance will find it here.
One other annoyance is that Alexander and Paris called each other “Yuri” and “Val,” respectively, a holdover from the time when they grew up together as brothers in Bactria. Perhaps readers of the previous books in the series understand this name change, but as I have not read them, I found myself looking for, but never found, a reasonable explanation for it.
Aside from these problems and a brief icky moment, that French could have easily written in another way, The Warrior is terrific, part historical novel, part historical romance. French effortlessly and vividly brings the ancient world to life. The characters feel true to their time and place, yet show emotions that will hit a chord with modern readers. I was agog by the detailed descriptions of life in ancient Egypt, Bactria (modern day Afghanistan), and Ireland, yet never felt they weighed down the story or the action. In fact, The Warrior is more fast-paced than I expected in a book so strong in historical detail. I could not stop reading to find out how each character’s adventure would end, and I sorely wished that they did not have to.