Author: Alexander Cole
Publisher: Corvus, 2014
Central to the story is the role Alexander’s war elephants play in this alternative history, which is told primarily from the viewpoints of Gajendra, who starts out as merely an elephant boy, and Mara, the daughter of the Carthaginian general Hanno. The elephant, Colossus, is as his name suggests, massive, and only Gajendra can control him. This enigmatic beast also displays quirks, which make for quite a number of fascinating scenes; in fact I would have loved to have seen more involving the pachyderms.
Gajendra is ambitious, and will go to great lengths to prove his worth. His work with the war elephants lends Alexander a great advantage in battle, and he soon enjoys a meteoric rise within the ranks of the army. This does not, however, come without cost. Alexander is painted out as a capricious, often fickle man, who is prone to discarding his favourites at whim as fast as he elevates them in status. Gajendra’s success may well prove ephemeral.
Mara has suffered great personal loss and seeks solace as a priestess of the goddess Tanith. When Carthage falls, Mara must disguise herself as a boy in order to avoid the inevitable fate many women suffer during war times. Her path crosses Gajendra’s and though their friendship is far from smooth, their dynamics are nonetheless engaging.
While this novel is mostly military fiction, with focus on tactics, there are some romantic elements. I found myself almost unconsciously wanting to compare this to the writings of Mary Renault, in which case Cole’s prose falls short of that benchmark. Cole’s decision to write in third person present tense is jarring at times, the narration clunky; the overall offering could have been a bit more polished.
That being said, this is still an enjoyable tale and is filled with interesting characters (including a little person, which should please fans of Tyrion Lannister), as well as plenty of action. Lovers of historical and military fiction will be in for a perfectly satisfying read.