Written by Alexander Cole
Review by Martin Bourne

This is an alternative history story that assumes Alexander the Great did not die in Babylon in 323 BC but instead attacks the city-state of Carthage and subsequently undertakes a campaign in Sicily against a rebellious general.

Mara, daughter of the Carthaginian general Hanno, is one of the numerous refugees from these military operations. Disguising herself as a boy, and escorted by her highly dangerous bodyguard, she ends up mucking out the war elephants in Alexander’s army. Here she meets Gajendra, a very competent Indian mahout (elephant handler), who controls a particularly large and ferocious elephant called Colossus. Mara is listlessly depressed because of the death of her husband and children. Gajendra is trying to overcome past helplessness by emulating and pleasing Alexander. Basically this is a love story between two damaged people who cannot accept that what they really need is each other, until they have stopped clinging to the false ambitions and concepts that they think they need.

This is not a long tale, but it is tightly written with great economy. Details of geography and movement are muted. The emphasis is very much on the characters. The other colossus, Alexander, is particularly well drawn, attracting and repelling in equal measure. Some of the interactions do stretch out a bit, but it’s all genuinely moving.