This is an alternate history that features Alexander the Great. The main heroes of the story are Gajendra and Mara. Gajendra rises swiftly in Alexander’s army, going from an elephant boy to general of the elephant forces. Gajendra’s personal elephant is Colossus who is the largest bull elephant in the army. Mara starts off as a grieving window who has lost her children as well and becomes an elephant boy herself (hiding her gender). Colossus is an important force in the army but also an important side character in this story, often being the reminder of more gentle things for both Mara and Gajendra.
I have long been fascinated by Alexander the Great, having read several fiction and nonfiction works about him. So when I saw this alternate history featuring him I had to give it a read. I was not disappointed. In fact, if you didn’t know much about Alexander, you could read this book and believe every bit of it; the story so masterfully intertwines fiction and facts.
Gajendra is a very interesting character. His Uncle Ravi took him in when he was a small boy and taught him the secret language of elephants. Right from the start of the story, Gajendra has mighty aspirations. He fell in love, or lust, the instant he spotted a certain noble woman, Zahara. Since then, he knows he must rise high in the army if there is to be any chance of winning her. But he knows he must treat the elephants well, not just because he cares for them as deeply as his uncle does, but because he knows they are the key to his success. As Gajendra rises in the ranks, he comes to the attention of Alexander himself. Throughout the tale, these two share some very intense conversations. Indeed, just remembering a few specific ones makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
Now Ravi and Gajendra march together in Alexander’s army and they march upon Carthage. Many of Alexander’s foes have never faced elephants in battle and their mere presence unnerves both soldiers and horses. Of course, they take a lot of care when the army isn’t battling anyone and a disgruntled elephant can do quite a bit of damage to Alexander’s army as well. Indeed, I feel I learned some important things about elephants in reading this book. They were definitely an integral part of the plot and not just scenery.
It took longer for me to like Mara. We meet her at the depth of her grief, having lost all her family except her father, a general of Carthage. When the city is attacked by Alexander’s army, her father orders the loyal family servant to protect her at all costs. Lucky for both of them, Gajendra is the one to find them in the aftermath of the attack and take them in as the lowest of elephant boys, mucking dung and fetching water. Eventually Mara’s grief crystallizes and she puts it to good use. Colossus is key in her return to life. By the end of the book, I was very glad I had made the journey with Mara as I came to admire her efforts.
There are very few female characters in this book. Zahara is essentially a love interest and has very few lines. There are perhaps 2 priestesses mentioned and I seem to recall one of them having a few lines. Mara has the greatest presence in the book for the ladies. She is written well and has full depth of character as well as a character arc. My one little quibble is that I would have liked a few more female characters that had a bit of depth.
I received this book free of charge from the publisher (via Audiobook Jukebox) in exchange for an honest review.
The Narration: Neil Shah did a great job. His voice for Alexander was excellent and I can imagine it was a bit difficult to maintain. Alexander’s voice is described in the text as having a kind of high pitched grating to it. Shah did a great job of getting this across to the listener while also keeping Alexander’s voice commanding and intense. His voice for Gajendra was also excellent having a light Indian accent. His female character voices were believable.