Beijing-born novelist and painter Shan Sa (Empress, 2006, etc.) imagines the life of Alexander the Great in terms of his impassioned love affair with an Amazon warrior queen.
Educated by Aristotle, Alexander wants to be a poet, but he follows in the footsteps of his father Philip of Macedonia. By the time Alexander rises to military preeminence, conquering Egypt and Babylon, he is the sun around which orbits a coterie of boyhood lovers/admirers. In this warrior society, romance and desire are reserved for other men while women are merely baby-makers. Alexander’s first love, his schoolmate Hephaestion, remains loyal even after Alexander takes Darius of Babylon’s former slave Bagoas as his new lover. Meanwhile on the Scythian steppes, the Amazons have evolved into a tribe of fierce women who live without men. One day Alexander finds himself in a one-on-one battle, unaware that his opponent is the Amazon queen Talestria. The two carry on their fight night and day until they recognize they are soul mates and decide to wed. After Alexander changes Talestria’s name to Alestria, her servant Tania is horrified that her queen chooses love over war while Bagoas goes wild with jealousy. Alexander finds himself torn by extreme passions, his thirst for conquest overcome by his love for Alestria and his desire to bear a child with her. Despite Tania’s efforts to keep Alestria sterile, she becomes pregnant. Tania is horrified as Alestria seems to wither away toward motherhood, but after the child is stillborn, Alestria demands that Alexander take her with him to the front. There Alexander suffers a fatal head wound but does not die immediately. Leaving behind a double in his place, he goes with Alestria to the Steppes, where she nurses him and where he has the chance to live without hatred.
The power of the author’s previous historical fiction came largely from a meticulous sense of historical detail missing in this artifice, which never comes to mythological or fictional life.