Fire and Bronze

Written by Robert Raymond
Review by Sarah Johnson

Little is known of the real Queen Dido of Carthage. As legend has it, she was a princess of Tyre who fled her homeland when her plot against her royal brother failed. Together with other exiles, she founded Carthage, a city in North Africa whose power would challenge Rome centuries later. In a suitably dramatic finale, to escape a forced marriage that would put Carthage in thrall to a foreign power, she immolated herself upon a pyre.

Fire and Bronze opens with Dido’s death, then recounts her life from childhood on. When Princess Elisha’s sickly father dies, Tyre is in turmoil. Her cunning older brother, the new King Pumayyaton, charms the commoners, incurring the nobles’ wrath. With the help of her uncle/husband, the high priest of Melqart, Elisha manipulates the political situation to her advantage. Although her coup is ultimately unsuccessful, it propels her on to a greater destiny. The Libyans, whose lands she appropriates, derisively call her Dido (“the wandering one”), yet she takes the name as a badge of honor.

This essentially plot-driven novel creatively fills gaps in her story, such as how Elisha manages to escape Tyre with much of its wealth. Her worthy partner in her early adventures is Bitias, an admiral whose romance with Elisha takes second place to her queenship. Details on religion, housing, and shipbuilding add plenty of color, as do examples from the Phoenicians’ vowel-less written language (though these words look quite odd in dialogue). Elisha occasionally seems overly brilliant for her age; I found it unlikely that a pre-teen, as she is in the novel’s first part, would have so much political acumen. Yet I believe readers who seek out ancient settings will enjoy this stirring novel of a legendary queen and her times.