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Guardians of Alexander: Goldbane 1

by John Wilson

(Big Engine, £9.99, 266 pages, large format paperback, published 2002.)

Historical fantasy is a tricky beast. First, how to choose a setting? Of course it has to be a time and a place that interests the author, cover scanbut it also has to interest the reader, a far more difficult task. Fortunately, in Guardians Of Alexander, John Wilson has chosen a setting that should be of wide interest--the Near and Middle East at the time of Alexander, that is, around 300 BC. Alexander is in fact the origin of the story here, having acquired a certain amulet that belongs to the Pollenator, an alien presence lurking in the Himalaya Mountains.

The tale follows events after the sudden death of Alexander. Two groups emerge, one led by Theopolytes and one led by Ptolemy, these two men being Alexander's most important generals. Theopolytes has acquired the amulet and also a vast treasure looted from King Darius of Persia. Unknown to him his actions are being manipulated by the Pollenator, mostly through a series of prophecies and auguries. Ptolemy, meanwhile, setting himself up as pharaoh in Egypt, also wants the treasure--and when he hears of the amulet he wants that as well. There follows an intriguing tussle between the two powers as their agents, augurers and, in the end, armies converge on the hidden valley where the amulet is hidden, awaiting the rebirth of Alexander.

Although the novel suffers from uneven pacing, the machinations of the various groups are interesting enough to overcome this problem. The latter part of the book is particularly well done, as the Pollenator comes into focus, the reasons for earlier passages are explained, and the climactic struggle in the hidden valley approaches. There could perhaps have been a stronger hook at the beginning, and the author will have to be forgiven for providing too many descriptions of torture and brutality (this was after all a violent age). These problems are however balanced by the exciting tussle of the two generals in the second half of the book, where every clue laid upon the land has to be retrieved, as if by human bloodhounds--terrific stuff. Readers who get sucked in will without doubt find themselves wondering what happens in the next two books, which are set in later epochs of history.

(Alas, as we all now know, the second and third titles of this trilogy will not be published by Big Engine. I can only hope that some other small press takes the books up.)

Review by Stephen Palmer.

Note: all three volumes of Goldbane, plus a number of other titles, are now available through Argoed Ebooks.

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