The Mystery Rites:
Girdle & Ring, Bull & Queen.
Into the Labyrinth!
I picked this up because of the cover; it really is gorgeous & it stirred something deep in the recesses of my memory. Did the artist, Rick Berry, do roleplaying game art? Did he do...Earthdawn art? He did! He even did that picture of Aina & Ysrthgrathe! Hey, I like that a lot! I looked a little closer & saw that this was a novel about the mother of Alexander the Great. What I know about the mother of Alexander the Great can be summed up pretty easily: she was played by Angelina Jolie in that one movie, right? Sorry, I'm more a Cleitus the Black fan. Anyhow, I decided to dig in, & I was pleasantly surprised. First-- I admit that I am often troubled by portrayals of matriarchy in historical fiction. I'm sorry, there just isn't any evidence to support it. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying this as an indictment of feminism-- rather to say that feminism's gains are through hard work & modern efforts toward equality. There wasn't a magical age of egalitarianism & Mother Goddess worship Oh, sure, the field of archeology has been littered with the detritus of misogynistic scholarship, but still: until you can show me some actual evidence-- Marija Gimbutas' spirals & eyes & female figures are suspect, sad to say. Neither here nor there, just a topic of discussion that the book brought up!
Not knowing anything about Olympias, I had no way of knowing if the book was being relatively faithful or being very liberal with the facts. Magic certainly exists, but that is part of the fun of historical fiction, isn't it? That doesn't detract from the story-- it isn't truth or accuracy but rather something more intangible. History is a narrative; anyone who pretends to know the truth of it is silly. It turns out, Judith Tarr cleaved to the historical sources pretty closely. The book is divided into three parts, one for each name she had in life-- Polyxena as a girl, Myrtale when she marries Phillip, & finally Olympias (well, ultimately Stratonice, but the book ends with Alexander's birth, when she becomes Olympias). The most effective passages of the story was the romance & the aforementioned supernatural elements. I'm not a fan of the "man versus woman" story-- the gender war is my least favorite form of genderpolitik-- but Tarr does it well, & once it moves into the bedroom it becomes compelling & believable. Similarly, the use of iconography, illusion & perception all play together with the fluidity of the magical passages-- the magic is vibrant, no matter of staid spells or flashy lightning bolts. Also, tons of witches from Thessaly, which Tarr paints in a picture connecting them to the pagan myths of the Inquisition-- it is a bridge that sings, I think. I found it one of the most memorable conceits in the book.