Let the Battles Begin: Alan Fisk Talks to Robert Fabbri About His New Series
WRITTEN BY ALAN FISK
Known for his nine-book Vespasian series, Robert Fabbri has moved back three centuries in his latest historical novel, Alexander’s Legacy: To the Strongest (Corvus 2020; reviewed this issue), which deals with the events after the death of Alexander the Great in Babylon in 323 BC. Alexander fails to explicitly name a sole heir and his reported deathbed words are “I foresee great contests at my funeral games.” Indeed, his seven “Bodyguards,” actually his chief generals, now make competing claims to be his successor. This novel is the first of what will be an ennealogy (a series of nine books), made up of three trilogies.
Fabbri deliberately avoided looking up previous novels on the same topic, such as Mary Renault’s Alexander trilogy, and specifically the last in that series Funeral Games (John Murray, 1981), so that Alexander’s Legacy would be purely his own approach to the story.
“I first read Funeral Games about forty years ago”, he says, “and last read it about twenty-five years ago; I deliberately did not read it again as I contemplated the Alexander’s Legacy series as I, obviously, did not want to be influenced by Renault’s characterisation or her take on history. My memory of the book has faded and so if there are any similarities they are either subconscious or accidental. As to the approach I took to the series, it came about because I realised that the only satisfactory way to deal with so many protagonists was to have a multiple point of view approach whereby seven, eight or nine characters have between three to six chapters in each book; as they are killed off – as they have to be, historically – they are replaced by others so that the focus of the series is always changing.”
Fabbri has laid out a provisional plan for the full series of novels, and has already completed the first trilogy. “It’s going to be a series of nine books – at least that is what it looks like to me at the moment – and I have already finished the first three. The second book, The Three Paradises, deals with the efforts of Antipatros, the regent of Macedon, to keep the empire together as the Successors struggle for prominence, or independence or simply keeping the status quo. In the third book, An Empty Throne, the focus is divided between the struggle for Macedon and the war between Antigonos and Eumenes in the east. In the fourth book, Babylon, which I am about to start, the focus stays on Macedon and the east, in the form of Babylon, but Ptolemy in Egypt and Syria also comes to the fore.
One obvious challenge was keeping the large number of main characters differentiated, so as not to confuse the reader. “Firstly, I have given them all nicknames, some real like Antigonos The One-eyed, and some fictional like Perdikkas The Half-chosen; secondly, each character has a symbol – designed by my wife, Anja – next to their name on the chapter heading, thus, I hope, helping to make them instantly recognisable despite them having difficult names. After this, I hope my characterisation of all the characters is sufficiently detailed to be able to tell them apart! I have taken as much as we know, or can infer, from the historical sources and then embellished each one to make my version of the man or woman. I also give them different speech patterns and have provided access to their thoughts in italics.
Historically, the only one of the “successors” who succeeded in grasping a piece of Alexander’s empire was Ptolemy, in Egypt, who went native and founded a dynasty that lasted until Cleopatra. I wondered whether Fabbri thought that any of the other “Bodyguards” could have pulled that off somewhere else. “Seleukos, who was not one of the seven ‘Bodyguards’ but was, nevertheless, a senior figure in the hierarchy grabbed most of the east as well as modern-day Syria and Iraq, forming the Seleucid Empire, which lasted until the Roman conquest in the first century B.C. Nevertheless, it has to be said that by that time it was merely a rump, having lost all of its eastern satrapies to the Parthians, Indians and the Bactrian Greek kingdom. As to the seven Bodyguards, only Lysimachus managed to carve out a kingdom for himself in Thrace and a portion of modern-day Turkey.
As for myself, I found Alexander’s Legacy: To the Strongest to be absorbing and full of interesting characters and incidents.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR: Alan Fisk has been a Reviews Editor for the Historical Novels Review for several years.
Published in Historical Novels Review | Issue 91 (February 2020)