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Alexander & Alestria    by Shan Sa order for
Alexander & Alestria
by Shan Sa
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2008 (2008)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Alexander & Alestria (translated by Adriana Hunter), Shan Sa, author of Empress and The Girl That Played Go, lyrically portrays how a rather girlish Alexander, brutalized and abused by his father Philip through childhood, embarks on headlong world conquest, to eventually meet his match and his destiny in Alestria, queen of the nomadic Amazons of Siberia, for whom 'it was forbidden to love the masculine race; it was forbidden to conceive.'

The tale is told in alternating voices - Alexander's, Alestria's, and that of Alestria's lifelong companion and serving girl, the fair-skinned Tania, who tells us that 'Melancholy is the poetry of a carefree life.' Shan Sa depicts the conqueror as a ruthless youth who 'needed new cities, barbarian nations, and unknown lands to deflate my pain ... Ambition healed and intoxicated me.' She shows him as avoiding marriage, declaring to Queen Olympias, 'I don't want to have children I can harm!'

We see Alexander and Alestria meet in battle, spend time together, fall in love, and return together to Alexander's army - to the dismay of Tania and the other Amazon women. The author has an intriguing take on this, in cleverly merging the queen of the Amazons with the conqueror's historical wife, the Persian Roxana. Of their time together, Alestria/Roxana tells us, 'Fear is love's twin. Fear makes love a two-edged sword.' Alestria accompanies the army to India, and Alexander's downfall there.

Though I found it difficult to connect to the two leads in Alexander & Alestria, it's a beautifully written period piece with interesting psychological insights into the character of a world conqueror who built his life on revenge. And Shan Sa gives a very satisfying spin to the end of Alexander & Alestria's story, which I recommend to anyone interested in this period of history.

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