1.2 Romance, 1.2.1 Gay Romance, Alexander - Fiction Book, Reviews

Book Review: “Becoming” (Dancing with the Lion #1) by Jeanne Reames

Recensione in italiano: QUI.

Quotes: HERE.

Hello everyone, thank you for being on Alessandro III di Macedonia, today I’m reviewing my latest, beautiful reading which is:

Dancing with the Lion: Becoming

(Dancing with the Lion #1)

by Jeanne Reames

Riptide Publishing, 2019

ISBN: 978-1626498976, pages 287

Two boys, one heroic bond, and the molding of Greece’s greatest son.

Before he became known as Alexander the Great, he was Alexandros, the teenage son of the king of Makedon. Rather than living a life of luxury, as prince he has to be better and learn faster than his peers, tackling problems without any help. One such problem involves his increasingly complicated feelings for his new companion, Hephaistion.

When Alexandros and Hephaistion go to study under the philosopher Aristoteles, their evolving relationship becomes even harder to navigate. Strength, competition, and status define one’s fate in their world—a world that seems to have little room for the tenderness growing between them.

Alexandros is expected to command, not to crave the warmth of friendship with an equal. In a kingdom where his shrewd mother and sister are deemed inferior for their sex, and his love for Hephaistion could be seen as submission to an older boy, Alexandros longs to be a human being when everyone but Hephaistion just wants him to be a king. 

Jeanne Reames received her PhD from the Pennsylvania State University in 1998, where she studied Macedonian history under Eugene N. Borza. In 2000, she was hired by the University of Nebraska, Omaha, and is now tenured faculty in the History Department, director of the Ancient Mediterranean Studies Program, and has served as History Graduate Program Chair.
In addition to short fiction, she’s published several academic articles and book chapters about Alexander and his court, as well as co-edited Macedonian Legacies with Tim Howe. Currently, she’s working on a biography of Hephaistion and pursuing research in Macedonian religion. She’s maintained an educational website about Hephaistion for almost two decades: jeannereames.net/Hephaistion/index.html
She will probably continue Alexander and Hephaistion’s story on into their Asian adventures sometime in the future, but is presently at work on a science-fiction series involving Dionysos and Ariadne.
She’s visited Greece several times, driving all over Macedonia, Epiros, and even into Bulgaria (ancient Thrace). Although she enjoys the Greek Islands (especially Naxos), her heart belongs to the mountains of the north.
On her last trip, she made a number of vlogs showing the land and some important sites mentioned in the novel. You can take a virtual tour on her website, or uncover other goodies and background information about Alexander and his homeland.

Classificazione: 4 su 5.

Reading time: from 4 to 9 January 2021.

Dancing with the Lion: Rise is the first book in a diptych – at least for now, but Dr. Reames may be publishing more in the future! – which speaks of Alexander’s youth. We have been following Alexander since his thirteen years and slowly we see him grow and mature. When Alexander meets Hephaestion for the first time he’s little more than a child and the age difference between the two is noticeable, as is also noticeable between Alexander and his older companions who have different interests and are more mature. The characters are all well characterized and we cannot fail to become attached to some as not detest others. Although this novel fits into gay literature, I’m happy with the choices made by Dr. Reames because Alexander and Hephaestion initially had hesitations and insecurities in seeing each other as more than a friend. In this way the story is much more realistic.

There are many the parts I liked. To name a few: the description of how Alexander trains Bucephalus, as Cleopatra is described, that is, a young woman who’s awake, intelligent and curious like her brother, very beautiful are the parts with Aristotle in Mieza when he teaches young boys how to reason with their heads.

Alexander (and Hephaestion) didn’t get along well with all their companions, on the contrary they were rather quarrelsome with Leonnatus, Cleitus and Cassander. Alexander is stubborn, intelligent, thirsty for knowledge, sensitive, gifted for the arts, he always wants to have the last word, if he is convinced of one thing he doesn’t allow himself to be convinced by others but he must understand it with experience (as in the case of the bet with Hephaestion in the Mieza chapter) and doesn’t accept discounts just because he is the prince, as in the case of the race in which Aristonos stands up to him but then gives up. Alexander understands this and is saddened to have won when he didn’t deserve it. Hephaestion is intelligent and sensitive but has a slightly more blunt character than Alexander because he is older. It is beautiful when Hephaestion rides Bucephalus and to see his experience with horses.

I really like the difference in the relationship between Alexander and Philip and between Hephaestion and Amyntor: the former have a more stormy, almost conflictual relationship even taking into account the influence of Olympias on the son and in the most intimate moments Philip always wants to teach his son, every opportunity is good to test him. During the Hetairideia there is a very beautiful scene between Philip and Alexander in which the father teaches the tactics of the battles to his son. Instead, between Hephaestion and his father Amyntor is more normal, less conflictual relationship. Amyntor has already lost three children and although he doesn’t share certain choices of his son, he supports him anyway.

Although the two main characters have the overwhelming majority of the weight in the book, Dr. Reames also outlines the other characters well and narrates the historical events by skilfully and finely mixing the novel. A very beautiful case was when Philip meets Alexander of Molossis, he lets us know of Alexander‘s doubt that there could be a sexual relationship between his father and his uncle, as Justin states in the Philippic of Trogus. Olympias is outlined as a strong, unconventional, shrewd and cultured woman and it’s interesting to see how her influence on Alexander changes between before and after Mieza. Ptolemy has a very important role in resolving the quarrel between Alexander and Hephaestion at Europos and I like his character very much because he knows he’s Alexander’s half-brother but he never reproaches him, he never makes him weigh it but rather he’s a dear friend of him. Alexander was deeply marked by Aristotle’s teachings in Mieza and here it shines through very well because he slowly grows and matures, physically and intellectually. Aristotle himself tells him beautiful words about the “middle ground” in life, whether is about drinking but also about passions and love and makes him understand that he will be king and must understand that he cannot behave like anyone else.

Though this historical novel fits into gay literature, is never vulgar or forced. I must also emphasize that a novel that wants to be faithful to Alexander cannot fail to talk about Hephaestion and overlook their relationship. Dr. Reames writes beautiful scenes between the two who before being lovers were friends, true friends. Alexander with Hephaestion could feel normal, himself. Hephaestion being the older of the two, makes a beautiful reflection between eros and philia, between sexual relationship and brotherly love and both have hesitations and uncertainties in wanting to evolve their friendship into something more and they needed time to understand that they were more than friends. At some point in the book all of their friends knew that there was something more between them but they themselves had not yet admitted it and so they were the last to understand it.

A peculiarity of this novel is that Dr. Reames uses names and words in Greek: Alexandros, Philippos, Ptolemaios, Akhilleus, Boukephalas and others and also the concepts are written in Greek but are always translated. This feature gives authenticity to the novel and helps us immerse ourselves in that time so far away from us. The book is accompanied by a map of Macedonia made by Selena Reames. A Dancing with the Lion: Rise follows Dancing with the Lion: Becoming which I’ll be reading soon. Without wanting to spoil anything, I’d like to read the story told by Dr. Reames even in moments after Becoming, I’d like to see how the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion is consolidated over time, even with the addition of Roxane. Dr. Reames does not rule out that these two novels will be followed by others and I really hope that she will continue them over time because I’d really like to read about her fictional Alexander until his death.

Dr. Reames is also working on an academic book on Hephaestion and I can’t wait for it to come out because as far as I know there are no monographs on him – nor on Philotas 😦 – so I would be happy to be able to read about him. This book will surely appeal to all those who are looking for a good novel about the young Alexander. Furthermore, the hard copy is available with two different covers, one like mine and a more “academic” one which is this:

I also hope that it will also arrive in Italian because this novel mixes history and fiction well and also the Italian public who doesn’t have the possibility to read in English should be able to read it in Italian as well.

Thank you all, happy Sunday,

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