Alexander at the End of the World Rothdas book review RSS
2.5 Stars
12-20-2015

My second least favorite book by Holt. Unlike the Walled Garden, which I quite enjoyed, this historical Athenian novel did not work for me. There is a lot of dad-humor in it, and parts of it seemed written by Dave Barry, or perhaps by the Black Company's Croaker on an off day. The central idea of the novel was also poorly implemented. The book is constantly trying to sell you on the theme that the main character, by focusing on ideas and ideals, inadvertently causes terrible damage to the people and world around him. But the actions of the book usually fail to support that assertion. For instance, the main character is walking along and thinking, when the brother he hasn't seen for 20 years runs into him from behind. His brother's leg is broken in this accident. The book then tells you over and over again that it is the protagonist's fault that his brother's leg was broken? It just doesn't make sense. Similarly, the protagonist helps found a new Greek colony at one point in the book. Their neighbors are Scythians, and one of the Scythian teenagers goes on a raid, kills several of the protagonists friends, and is then mortally wounded by the protagonist, leading to an escalating cycle of violence. This violence too is blamed on the protagonist, because he killed this teenager who was on a murder-rampage? That's just kind of karma in action, not some grievous moral fault by the main character. There's plenty of other examples like this; these two just stood out. The theme in of itself is fine, and I'd be open to it, but the novel never really supports the themes. Or to re-phrase: the novel is constantly telling you a theme and then showing you something else. There's also an annoying number of anachronisms in the book. I usually don't notice these, but perhaps because the storyline didn't really work for me the anachronisms really stood out. For instance, you have phrases like "under pressure" which really wouldn't mean anything in the ancient world.

So, what is the story about? It is the memoir of a Greek philosopher, as he deals with life, tutors Alexander the Great, founds a colony, talks to his brother about military campaigns, and so on. The Alexander parts were more interesting than the main character's navel gazing, and oddly in the last 150 pages of the 450 page novel there is some more interesting, PKD type time-slip action going on.

Editor's Note: Despite the flaws of the novel, and despite disliking the novel, I mostly agree with the novel. It belongs to that small class of books which are poorly implemented, but still contain ideas which are both uncommon and correct and useful. I'm not sure how to reflect that in a 5-star rating system, but it is a book where I do agree with its thesis and find myself referencing it every month or so for years after. This isn't because the novel introduced a new idea to me necessarily, rather this is sort of the book I think about when I think of this sort of idea (where the idea is "infrastructure over ideas").