Alexander the Great lies dead, his empire disintegrating into battle zones. Moreover, the sudden death of the Great King has loosed the furies of the supernatural into the world. The young commander Lydias of Melitus joins with Ptolemy (Alexander’s officer and perhaps half-brother) and the beautiful eunuch Bagaos (Alexander’s lover) to steal the conqueror’s embalmed body and take it to Egypt for the rites that will send the evil spirits back to the underworld–and make Ptolemy Pharaoh of the Two Lands.
In her third novel, Stealing Fire, Jo Graham weaves this promising plot in between scenes from the conquest in a bold and ambitious attempt to encompass Alexander’s whole brilliant career. Graham is a good writer, and she loves the ancient world, especially Egypt, which figures centrally in both her previous novels. Unfortunately the research overwhelms her; trying to include everything she knows about her period, she loses her story and its human values. The same problem thwarts her use of fantasy, whose spooky edge goes dull when she tries to explain Isis as a quantum effect.