Saturday, February 04, 2012

"Killer of Men" and "Marathon" by Christian Cameron

I read these books a few months ago but I guess I was too busy to write them up properly.  I will make up for that omission now.

I read these two books under what must be ideal conditions.  A mutual friend took me over to see Christian Cameron -- re-enactor, amateur scholar, and historical novelist -- at his home.  Although there were other guests already present, Christian took the time to share with us wine, food, and sparkling, amusing, learned conversation.  As we left, he gave me copies of the two books, and I had them to read on the long bus trip home.

All you need now is that the books be good, right?

Well, they are.

Cameron has pulled off a difficult feat, writing a pretty convincing story of the distant past in the first person -- from the point of view of a fifth-century BC Greek householder and warrior.  Lots of people write first-person historicals that may or may not be fun, but aren't very convincing as a portrait of the protagonist or the protagonist's society.  There is always the temptation to make the hero/heroine more sympathetic by portraying him or her as somehow holding to some or even many contemporary values, however unlikely that may be.  How many medieval historicals feature a physician or other healer whose remarkably modern and scientific insights are an essential part of the plot and her/his character?  Too many.

I didn't feel that way about Cameron's protagonist, who is modeled on a real person, but one who, thank heaven, is no one famous.  The amount of learning and literary skill it took to do this should not be underestimated.

There is one aspect where the first-person presentation eventually lost credibility with me.  First-person presentation demands a fair bit of suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience; that suspension is a delicate thing.  Somewhere in the second book of this (unfinished) series I stopped believing the hero could remember every blow he threw or tactic he used on various battlefields or in maritime encounters through his whole long life -- which ain't over yet.  You are warned -- Cameron is a military re-enactor and it shows.

That doesn't affect my judgment that he is also a superior historical novelist.

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