I recently came across the term Bromance and was intrigued by its meaning. The term refers to the feeling that men have when they hang out together in a strictly platonic way, but enjoy one anothers company. There are things that men like to do that women will not understand. We want to fart, tell rude jokes and avoid discussing our feelings in any way. Having a friend to watch football with or play squash is a great thing. Blokes dont ask anything of one another and we dont often take offence lifes a lot simpler. I think its this feeling of simplicity and bonding that makes historic fiction such a popular genre for men. Most historic fiction books rely on one core character and the set of comrades that he goes to war with e.g. Sharpe and Harper et al. This acts as a double edged sword as so much of the book relies on the Bromance between these men. Will Christian Camerons debut attempt in Tyrant start a whole new (platonic) love affair?
The time of Alexander the Great was one of war and uncertainty for many. Alexander would defeat a great city only to make their warriors part of his army. What happened to these warriors once they were no longer needed? They would often return home to discover the political landscape changed and banished from their homes. This happens to Kineas as he and is men find themselves homeless and without an army. In desperation he signs his troops up to defend a faraway city ran by a Tyrant who uses terror to suppress his people. Kineas finds himself with more to worry about when he discovers that the city he has sworn to protect is about to be attacked by Alexanders army. Can Kineas unite the people of the city with the barbarian hordes that surround them so they have enough power to face the mighty invasion?
Tyrant is in many ways historic fiction by the numbers. Cameron has chosen a period in history that has not been written about too much and applied the formula that has seen Cornwell, Iggulden and Scarrow become successful. Kineas is a strong leader who feels fear but overcomes it to protect his men. He has the uncanny ability to judge a battle and this allows him to create good tactics and become a figure head. Like Sharpe he has the duel personality of a man and a leader. We follow the book through Kineas eyes therefore we learn about his fears and his preoccupation with death. However, we also see how his men see him; a strong warrior who knows no fear! By creating a slightly more human hero Cameron makes Kineas a worthy read.
Unfortunately, this characterisation does not carry on with the rest of the cast. I always have a problem remembering names in books, especially when they are strange or too similar. Being set in the time of Alexander means that Tyrant suffers both of these fates. Kineas (himself not easily monikered) is surrounded by implausibly named people that must be authentic for the time, but this does not help me. I remember Ajax, as this is a cleaning product and successful footy team, but apart from that I was lost. This was not only due to the names but also the fact that the characters were not too well developed. I imagine that 3 or 4 will become like family over several books, but at the moment they are not. The confusion in names and lack of depth affected the book as moments of poignancy fell short when you did not understand which of the characters had died.
The other main area of interest in a historical fiction book about war is the quality of the battles. The author has to combine a sense of the period whilst making it as exciting and visceral as possible. Cameron successfully creates some great battle sequences and they make up a little for the quite slow parts in between. Kineas keen sense of special awareness means that he, and in turn we, see a lot of the battle. The different tactics used by the various ancient people was interesting to read about and made these sections refreshingly different. I was particularly impressed with the build up to the finale as it was paced a lot better than the rest of the novel.
Tyrant suffers in part for being the first of a series. Simon Scarrow proved with Marco and Cato that you can produce instant interest in characters from book one, but this is rare. Instead most authors have to build up a rapport with the reader and this can take time. Bernard Cornwell's recent olde England books have only become worthy by book 4. I imagine that I could grow to like Kineas and his band of men more over time, but they are not developed well enough here. The story is average and follows a tried and tested historic fiction format which makes the book feel average. Although the characters are not that engaging the fight sequences do make up for this and the book does seem linked to the period. This is one for fans of the historic fiction genre who have read everything else, whilst new fans of the genre should try Iggulden or Scarrow instead.
Author: Christian Cameron
Price: amazon uk - £6.59
play.com - £7.49
A well-born officer of Athenian cavalry, Kineas fought shoulder to shoulder with Alexander in his epic battles against the Persian hordes. But when he returns to his native city, he finds not glory but ignominy, as all veterans of the Boy King's campaigns are sent into exile. With nothing to his name but his military skills, Kineas has no choice but to become a mercenary, and soon accepts a commission to soldier for the Tyrant of Olbia, a wealthy city on the Black Sea. But when he reaches Olbia he finds he and his tight-knit band of Athenians have stumbled into a deadly maze of intrigue and conspiracy as the Tyrant plots to use them as a pawn in the increasingly complex power games between his own citizens, the so-called barbarians of the encroaching Scythian plains, and the dread military might of Macedon. Caught between his duty to the Tyrant, his loyalty to his men and a forbidden love affair with a charismatic Scythian noblewoman, Kineas must call on all his Athenian guile, his flair on the battlefield, and even - he is convinced - the intervention of the gods, to survive.