A work of historical fiction focuses on the life of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire.
In an effort to forge a political alliance, the king of Medea, Astyages, offers his daughter, Mandane, to the Persian king of Anshan, Cambyses I. Much to the dismay of Astyages, though, a prophecy later foretells that his grandchild will grow up to overthrow his rule. He quickly decides that the child must be executed and orders one of his commanders, Harpagus, to dispose of him. Harpagus disobeys the king, gives him to Mitradotes to raise as his own son, and names him Cyrus. Years later, the boy displays such prodigious wisdom and regal poise, Astyages becomes suspicious of his origins, and Harpagus comes clean and confesses his disobedience. The king punishes Harpagus by killing his son and feeding the boy to his father, but he permits Cyrus to leave, a decision he soon regrets. Astyages becomes fearful of Cyrus’ burgeoning popularity and plots his assassination, but the conspiracy fails. After Cyrus announces his independence, Astyages surrenders. With the unified nation behind him, Cyrus overtakes Susiana. Then he repels the aggressive advances of the talented leader Croesus and extends the empire to Babylon, liberating thousands of Jews in captivity. Though Cyrus rules for only 30 years or so, his reforms lay the groundwork for the next 1,200 years of the empire; he not only democratizes the governmental structure and creates a currency, but also establishes a charter of human rights remarkably progressive for the time. Balouchian (Punishment, 2017, etc.) manages to artfully condense a complex history into a very brief novel, well under 200 pages. The drama, sometimes tantalizingly grim, unfolds with an electrified air of suspense even though the reader knows the conclusion of the tale is foregone. The most remarkable aspect of Cyrus’ governance was his insistence on the rights of his citizens, a position so historically radical one wishes the author could have attempted more of an explanation for its basis. Nonetheless, this is a well-crafted and readable introduction to a major historical figure.
A dramatic and instructive history of the birth of Persia.