Self-contained historical fantasy book set mostly in Alexander the Great’s camp.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Page count: 320
Publisher: TOR

Selene is an Amazon warrior and close to the Queen Hippolyta. When the Queen gives birth to a daughter without a soul, almost everyone wants to kill her, except the Queen and Selene. Selene is kin to the Seer, a woman who has given up her own name and become the instrument of the Goddess. Selene also sees visions but she doesn’t want to become the next Seer; she wants to be a warrior and so she stubbornly refuses the calling. When it’s clear that the Queen’s daughter needs a guard, Selene vows to take up that duty. The Queen declares her daughter the heir and in defiance, a group of Amazons leaves.

The daughter remains nameless but everyone starts to call her Etta, which means “that thing”. Etta behaves like an animal, eating when she’s hungry and hunting when she wants to. She never speaks and her eyes are empty, her face devoid of expression. When Selene is near her, she doesn’t get any visions from the Goddess anymore. Selene is the captain of Etta’s guard.

The Amazons who left the queen try to take over the tribe once but fail. Soon afterwards, Etta begins a ride that takes, in the end, several months. Selene, Hippolyta, and a small group of warriors follow Etta who rides relentlessly to Alexander’s camp. Etta wants to be as close to Alexander as she can and the king graciously accepts that. Selene and Etta stay with Alexander and follow him for years.

Despite presence of the conqueror of the then know world, the book isn’t centered on violence. Instead, Selene is finding her own place in the world. She spends a lot of time away from her own people, among the men in Alexander’s camp. She comes from a very different world: among the Amazons, women are hunters and warriors while the men live in villages farming the land and keeping cattle. The women visit the men in spring for a month; so it’s no surprise that they don’t have marriage and women are encouraged to love only other women. Among the Persians women (at least upper-class women) are sequestered away from men and public life and guarded by eunuchs. Greeks also kept women tightly in the home; they weren’t considered really human. Yet, the Amazons are considered a special case and nobody tries to harass them.

I hesitate to call this a coming of age story because it takes place over a decade. It’s grand and epic and a sweeping adventure, it has bittersweet romances which don’t take over the rest of the story. At the center of it the charismatic conqueror with a shining spirit.

I loved this novel; far too few fantasy books are set in the Ancient world. I guessed earlier what would happen but that didn’t diminish the book for me.