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I Never Learned to Play the Trumpet

As a consequence, I am uncomfortable blowing my own horn. You critics, agents, publishers out there—you know who you are, please give a poor fella a break. Until you pick up some of the slack, I am left to do this pretty much on my own.

So here goes. February 1, the exclusive, prestigious guardians of all fictional writings historical, responsible for ruining innumerable toes of otherwise impeccable Sloane Street brogues as they are slammed unceremoniously out into a cold London drizzle, the
Historical Novel Society has seen sit fit to bestow (for the second time running) an Editors' Choice accolade on the second book in The Bow of Heaven series, A Mixture of Madness.

Last year, the Society was kind enough to single out the first book in the series,
The Other Alexander, with the same honor. Here is what they had to say:

“I am ancient now far beyond my fair share of years,” Alexandros, the slave Alexander, tells us at one point in Levkoff’s lavishly detailed and exuberantly intelligent second volume in his “Bow of Heaven” series about the smart, opinionated philosophy student who becomes the slave to the wealthiest man in Rome, Marcus Crassus. Readers need not read the first volume in order to enjoy this current one, and Roman history buffs will be able to guess the shape of the new book’s plot: Crassus, financier, doting father and husband, disgruntled triumvir, and would-be conqueror of the East. Levkoff has Alexander the slave at his master’s side through almost everything, without ever sentimentalizing his slave status (Crassus may like Alexander, but he’s also quick to threaten floggings when he’s in a bad mood) or filling the character with improbable braveries.

The book is filled with intrigue and action, especially in its final act when Crassus is bent on marching to the hostile kingdom of Parthia and almost certain doom. Along the way, Alexander himself grows and changes (“I love and am loved,” he tells us at one point, “I have friends, and a life that may justly be called my own"), and readers are drawn along by the author’s sharp ear for dialogue and his impeccable dramatic timing.



I was very pleased to receive a new review today from the reader below. I tried to find Kelly to thank him/her for taking the time to post such a thoughtful critique. If Kelly is actually reading this blog, in addition to advising you to run right out and buy a lottery ticket, I extend that gratitude to you now.

(Spoiler follows.)

Alexandros' loss of freedom is, of course, a central theme of
The Bow of Heaven series, and yes, for dramatic purposes, it is not granted in The Other Alexander. I am not trying to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of story line, but I am trying to tell a readable yarn above all. I was, in fact, flattered, that someone who clearly knows Roman history far better than I saw fit to give me such high marks.

4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, well researched and great characters, November 10, 2012

This review is from: The Other Alexander, Book I of The Bow of Heaven (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Alexander, and as a Roman historian, I can be hard to please. I've given the book four stars rather than five simply because I felt there were a couple of plot points where the author brushed aside the character of his protagonists that he'd been carefully building, in order to achieve a dramatic moment. This was disappointing to me, but other readers may not feel the same.

(Minor spoiler follows)

I also had to take issue that the main character, who displays loyalty and courage, moves into his thirties without manumission, even after he has saved the life of a citizen and his master. He is too valuable to be given his freedom, the writer tells the reader. This is convenient for the plot, but disappointed me given how careful the author has been in crafting other aspects of Roman society and explaining these to the reader within the narrative. Manumission was not only the end of captivity for the Roman slave, it was also the culmination of a process of social integration, a process whereby the slave who had already been partially incorporated into Roman society through the social institutions of household, family, and patron-client friendships became politically assimilated into the Roman state. (Patterson, 1982). Crassus' failure to at least discuss this possibility with Alexander was a major flaw in the novel to me.

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

Here in its entirety is the review which will be published on the Foreword Clarion website in a couple of weeks.

Pasted Graphic

Four Stars (out of Five)

“A word of advice,” cautions Alexander, the narrator and hero of Andrew Levkoff’s
The Bow of
. “If you can possibly avoid it, do not get shot.” Such wry asides are plentiful in this tale
of a Greek student “harvested and swept up to feed Rome’s insatiable appetite” for the slaves
“upon which that lumbering beast’s survival depended.”

Levkoff has chosen to tell the story of Marcus Licinius Crassus—the richest man in
Rome during his day, the original benefactor and sponsor of Gaius Julius Caesar, and the
commander who oversaw the campaign to put down the revolt of Spartacus—through the eyes of
a slave. The novel focuses more on the trials and tribulations of those who serve a great house
than on the triumphs and tragedies of those who rule it. Whole chapters are devoted to romantic
and other interpersonal relationships among the staff, while Crassus’s greatest moments—the
Spartacus campaign, the Catiline Conspiracy—are skipped over and told as afterthoughts.

Despite this rather unusual and at times unsatisfactory tactic (at least to fans of Roman
historical fiction), Levkoff does manage to paint his readers a very believable—though perhaps
too sympathetic—portrait of a man who was once the most formidable power in the ancient
world. Levkoff does so while keeping the audience entertained with the soap opera bubbling
about in the kitchens, work rooms, and slave quarters of Crassus’s villa.

The slave Alexander is Crassus’s confidant and conscience and, at times and quite
literally, also his whipping boy. Levkoff does not let his readers forget that while Alexander
comes to lead a life of privilege and comfort due to his master’s generosity, the Greek remains
“but still a slave.” How Alexander is treated by the petulant and pompous Caesar, for example,
speaks volumes on the lives and character of both men.

Thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and cleverly staged,
The Bow of Heaven is a
unique and engaging look at Rome in the first century before the Common Era. It is also the first
in a series, the second of which is previewed in the final pages of the novel. Book Two will focus
on Crassus’s ill-fated attempt to conquer Parthia, a disastrous campaign that humbled Rome, cost
the great man his life, and thus removed the one block that kept Pompey Magnus and Julius
Caesar from tearing the republic apart. If Levkoff continues the excellent work he demonstrates
in Book One, Book Two is likely to be an even better read than the already superb
The Bow of
. - Mark G. McLaughlin

Somebody find the ground so I can put my feet on it!

I am humbled and extremely grateful to the Historical Novel Society, the venerated, prestigious British journal of historical fiction, for the following review, published in their February, 2012 edition. To see the entire page, click here.

Historical Novels Online


"Bow" reviewed

Thank you, Carole Rae, for this goodreads review: