Sunday, October 03, 2010

T is for Thomas

It's unusual—and daunting—to take on a novel from a small press that arrives complete with glowing commentary from novelists such as Bernard Cornwell and Cecelia Holland. At its conclusion, I was relieved to find myself in complete agreement.

In A Bloodline of Kings, a historical epic about Philip of Macedon, the story begins with one birth (that of Philip himself) and ends with another (his son Alexander, later called the Great). In the intervening pages, Sundell takes us through the life of an extraordinary man, Philippos of the Makedones, whose brilliant military career during the 4th century BC was overshadowed by that of his more famous son.

It is Philippos who earns Macedon a place on the political playing field of the ancient Hellenes and makes it the equal of powerful city-states such as Athens and Thebes. This is not only a military saga, however, for the women are as strong and ambitious as the men. In fact, some of the most emotional moments occur as Kleopatra, former Queen of the Makedones and Philippos' great-grandmother, secretly trains her young charge to be a future leader, not knowing that his older brothers' early deaths will make her wishes come true.

The author's research is well evident; its thoroughness is, in fact, astonishing. As the novel does not always wear its research lightly, newcomers to the period may find it intellectually challenging, but the education they receive as a result will make their efforts worthwhile.

I reviewed Thomas Sundell's A Bloodline of Kings for the Historical Novels Review in 2002, when it first came out, and part of this post was taken from my original writeup.  I spotted the novel on my basement shelves while doing some book shifting this afternoon (happens a lot around here) and decided to feature it for the letter T in Historical Tapestry's alphabet challenge.

Because it's been a while since I first read it, I thumbed through it again to see if I still had the same opinion.  One thing I neither remembered nor remarked on back then: it's written in the present tense.  This didn't feel artificial or faddish then and it didn't after a reread of the first chapter.  It surprises me that I didn't mention it in my original review, but I guess that means that it didn't bother me. Also, it's self-published, and slightly more expensive than other hardcovers of similar length, but there's a lot of action, characters, and story packed into its near-500 pages.  For readers who enjoy well-rounded depictions of the ancient world, this one's worth seeking out.

Thomas Sundell's A Bloodline of Kings was published by Crow Woods in 2002 at $28.50 (484pp, hardbound). It's still in print and available.


  1. This sounds good, Sarah. There's so much fiction around about Alexander, and very little about his father, who created the power base from which Alexander was able to develop his military empire.

  2. That's very true, Annis. The title of this one is apt, since there's an extended family tree on the endpapers, showing Alexander's ancestors... none of whom you hear very much about. I found it fascinating.

  3. I was pleased to eventually track down and order a copy with a price I could handle without having a heart attack :) A lot of the copies offered for sale were eye-wateringly expensive, especially given that I usually have to pay substantial postage charges on top.

  4. That's great, Annis - I hope you like it! I know what you mean about the pricing and postage, too, as I sometimes order books from NZ and the postage often costs even more than the book. In this case, both must be pricey.

  5. Oooh, this sounds fabulous! Am definitely adding it to my list. Thanks for featuring the review.

  6. Luigi Scalise9:31 PM

    Sounds like a good read. I've always appreciated ancient Greek history and I am always hungry for more stories from the time period.

    1. Ancient Greek settings have become pretty rare in historical fiction nowadays - not sure why that is, considering some of the genre's classics (like Mary Renault's novels) are set then. We could use some more. As far as I can tell, A Bloodline of Kings is the author's only novel.