Review by RJM Terrado
“Once Alexandria had dipped below the horizon, however, the resilience of youth allowed them to put their sadness behind them and to appreciate the excitement of this journey of destiny that had just begun.”
Ancient Greece is a mainstay of historical fiction. From the Elephant of Aristotle (1958) to The Rage of Achilles (2009), narratives about ancient Greek personalities bring about imaginative settings that appeal to a western audience. Probably it’s because characters like Alexander the Great and Achilles provide a glimpse of a brand of heroism that is buried in history books. The tensions, hopes, and romance in the aforementioned novels allow readers to humanize the past. A Pyrrhic Victory is another attempt to humanize the classic and enrich the knowledge of contemporary readers on another brand of heroism–the Pyrrhus brand.
While Alexander the Great can be considered a household name, Pyrrhus of Epirus is not. Unless a reader is a student of history, well read about ancient Greek history, or has encountered the idiom Pyrrhic victory and is looking for its meaning, Pyrrhus of Epirus may not ring a bell. The distinctive obscurity of Pyrrhus makes A Pyrrhic Victory Vol. I: The Shaping of Destiny interesting. It can fuel curiosity from readers enough to trigger an exploit and make them wonder why Pyrrhus deserves to grace the protagonist role in an Ancient Greek-themed novel. This is where Crouch successfully ties the book as he impeccably draws a character with complex historical and legendary accomplishments.
A Pyrrhic Victory opens with an enumeration of characters in the novel and a brief description of their roles in the ancient world. All major characters in the novel are historical figures except for one. Crouch then provides a background for the novel’s setting through the Prologue: the death of Alexander the Great, the division that follows, and the rise of a young man from Epirus whom Hannibal described as the most capable military commander the world has seen post-Alexander era. The mention of Hannibal in the Prologue provides the book with needed credibility and justification for why an unknown Pyrrhus is worth writing a novel series.
Hannibal of ancient Carthage is considered by modern society as one of the greatest military tacticians and strategists in the world’s history. According to Hannibal, he learned the art of war from the writings of Pyrrhus (as mentioned by Jeff Champion in his book Pyrrhus of Epirus published in 2009). He considered Pyrrhus as his teacher and ranked himself below him. With an endorsement from a more popular tactician and strategist like Hannibal, A Pyrrhic Victory has put to rest the issue of credibility that any reader may cast on the author’s choice of making Pyrrhus the central character of the novel. Crouch has cleverly capitalized on Pyrrhus’ obscurity and Hannibal’s credibility.
With obscurity and credibility already under the A Pyrrhic Victory’s belt, the author progresses by drizzling the novel with some tensions and romance. Who wouldn’t be twitterpated with the meeting of a man whose appearance is like that of a god and a young lady whose beauty is not perfect, but is infinitely serene and gentle? Crouch’s approach to describe the budding romance between Antigone and Pyrrhus with some restrained euphoria makes it more realistic and communicates an attempt not to exaggerate the characterization of the lovers.
However, like any historical fiction, the novel is not short with tensions. The author does not stop with romance, and in the prologue for the volume II, another relationship is introduced–a relationship between a father and a son. The young Ptolemy has graced the consciousness of the readers reminding them how life can be fleeting as the author describes a loss and the smell of a funeral pyre that haunts Pyrrhus.
The greatest value of A Pyrrhic Victory is in its effort to bring Pyrrhus of Epirus into the consciousness of the common reader. Perhaps, a page about Hannibal’s description of Pyrrhus is worth inserting in the Vol. II of the book. Hannibal had strong affirmative words for Pyrrhus and quoting him verbatim will speak volumes of credibility about the main character of the novel. Hannibal’s commendation together with the Gold Medal in Historical Fiction makes a convincing case for a remarkable protagonist and an accomplished author. A Pyrrhic Victory is another creation that successfully showcases the greatness of one person that has been buried in history books.
RECOMMENDED by the USR
The Shaping of Destiny
The ancient world brought to life…
History can be difficult to make compelling. The academic’s apotheosis of fact so often dries out the vitality of an ancient drama, while the novelist’s liberal imaginings can pervert the honest power of true events. Dr. Ian Crouch, however, has managed to marry his skills as both historian and literary paragon seamlessly in The Shaping of Destiny, volume one of his epic— A Pyrrhic Victory.
The novel, a vivid account of the ancient world, illuminates the life and achievements of Pyrrhus, king of Epirus. Taking command shortly after the death of Alexander the Great, the young ruler and military luminary enters history in a crucible of ambition and war. Courageous, yet flawed, the novel follows the exploits of this legendary figure— bringing his humanity and inner-life to the forefront through stunning prose and literary finesse.
Dr. Crouch, whose encyclopedic knowledge of the ancient world grounds the story, has won award after award (the National Indie Excellence Award, the NABE Pinnacle Award, the Independent Publisher Book Award, et al)— and rightly so. The Shaping of Destiny is on par with Graves and Vidal when it comes to this category; awakening history, while at the same time bringing his own unique flair to the material. Endlessly readable, deeply informative, and gripping in its novelistic approach, volume one of A Pyrrhic Victory is perfect for fans of history and fiction alike. I loved this book, and highly recommend it to those who like both to learn and to dive into literature on an epic scale.
Charles Asher, January, 2015