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Guardians of Alexander: Goldbane 1

by John Wilson

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

Heading home from India, the great Macedonian ruler cover scanAlexander entrusts his general Theopolytes with a vital mission: to retrieve a mysterious treasure casket from Persepolis and transport it in absolute secrecy back to Macedon. The artefact within this casket, Alexander believes, will afford him immortality; Theopolytes already believes Alexander to be a god, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to have a backup plan. But word later reaches Theopolytes that Alexander has died and that a more ambitious and less scrupulous general, Ptolemy, has set himself up as Alexander's successor, with his base in Egypt. Theopolytes takes his entourage into hiding, and establishes a secret society to protect Alexander's legacy: the Guardians of Alexander.

The back cover blurb leads one to expect Guardians of Alexander to be a reasonably equal mixture of science fiction and historical adventure. In fact it's entirely an historical adventure, with one or two light science fictional touches added in -- the mysterious casket has yet to really do anything other than be a mysterious casket, and "the alien Pollenator", clumsily mentioned on the back cover, doesn't even turn up until the last sentence of the book. But the straight drama of Guardians of Alexander is so fine, it really doesn't need any special effects to jazz it up.

I'll admit it took me a while to push past the first couple of chapters, but when this book kicks in, it does so with the force of ten thousand heavily armed Greek soldiers. There's a bit of romance, a bit of skulduggery, a bit of pastoral mysticism, and plenty of violence. Wilson doesn't skimp on the gore, and while this may not entirely endear Theopolytes' sword-happy band to us, it does at least reflect a simple truth about the ancient Greek military way of life. Indeed, Wilson appears to have done some thorough research into all aspects of Alexander's army, and pleasingly he doesn't feel the need to dump said research on the reader in large sections. The story overall has a good, authentic feel to it, which bodes well for Books 2 and 3. Fingers crossed that, in the wake of Big Engine's passing, someone can be persuaded to take the other two books on. I do have one question though: why "Goldbane"?

It's nice to read a stirring action tale every so often, without having to wonder when the next orc is going to pop out from behind a tree, and "stirring" and "action" are two words that definitely apply to Guardians of Alexander.

Review by John Toon.

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

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