This edition printed 2011
Originally published by Little, Brown and Company, 1999
This is one of the books I got from the library a couple if weeks ago. I’ve read a few of Tom Holt’s comic fantasy novels but I hadn’t known he’d also written historical novels. It was a pleasant surprise.
‘Alexander At The World’s End’ tells the tale of Euxenus son of Eutychides, who started life in Athens and ended up as governor if Alexandria-at-the-End-of-the-World, in Sogdiana (otherwise known as Iskander, 50 miles NE of Tashkent). When he was a youth his father arranged for him to be apprenticed to a philosopher so that he could learn a trade. Unfortunately he choose Diogenes, the Yapping Dog, the Cynic, the man who told Alexander the Great to get out of his light.
Under Diogenes’s tutelage Euxenus learnt Yapping Dog philosophy, and politics. He made a good living at it in Athens, the the assistance of an invisible snake in a jar. Unfortunately Phillip of Macedon is making a nuisance of himself, and Euxenus is one of the lucky, lucky ambassadors sent to Pella to discuss the matter. It went badly.
But not for Euxenus, who managed to make the acquaintence of young Prince Alexander while rounding up bees, gain Queen Olympias’s favour (her snake obsession came in handy for a change) and get a job tutoring the Prince and his Companions.
Completely ill equiped for such a position, Euxenus throws himself into his work with all his usual dedication until Philip decides to send Euxenus and a couple of thousand Illyrian mercenaries he no longer needs off to Olbia on the Black Sea to found a colony.
After many years and assorted adventures Euxenus returns to Athens and settles down on the old family farm. Time passes, Euxenus becoming the good farmer his family always assumed he’d never manage to be, until his once pupil, now king of the known world, sends a couple of soldiers for him.
Alexander needs a governor for his newest city, in Sogdiana, so Euxenus must once more go travelling, this time across Asia, because when Alexander wants something, Alexander gets. In his new home Euxenus once again tries to build the Perfect Society and write his History, which is very difficult for a man constantly looking the wrong way when important events are taking place.
Funny yet poignant, this novel explores the difference between who we really are, who we believe ourselves to be and how the world sees us. It’s really quite sadly beautiful. It’s also a grand history lesson and philosophy primer. Written with the deft touch of a great storyteller, gripping from first to last and full of detail, I would heartily recommend this novel.