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Pillars of Hercules [Paperback]

David Constantine

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Book Description

March 6 2012
Alexander, Prince of Macedon, is the terror of the world. Persia, Egypt, Athens… one after another, mighty nations are falling before the fearsome conqueror. Some say Alexander is actually the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and the living incarnation of Hercules himself. Worse yet, some say Alexander believes this…

The ambitious prince is aided in his conquest by unstoppable war-machines based on the forbidden knowledge of his former tutor, the legendary scientist-mage known as Aristotle. Greek fire, mechanical golems, and gigantic siege-engines lay waste to Alexander's enemies as his armies march relentlessly west—toward the very edge of the world.

Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, past the gateway to the outer ocean, lies the rumored remnants of Atlantis: ancient artifacts of such tremendous power that they may be all that stands between Alexander and conquest of the entire world. Alexander desires that power for himself, but an unlikely band of fugitives—including a Gaulish barbarian, a cynical Greek archer, a cunning Persian princess, and a sorcerer's daughter—must find it first… before Alexander unleashes godlike forces that will shatter civilization.

The Pillars of Hercules is an epic adventure that captures the grandeur and mystery of the ancient world as it might have been, where science and magic are one and the same.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Night Shade Books (March 6 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781597803977
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597803977
  • ASIN: 1597803979
  • Product Dimensions: 22.6 x 15.2 x 3.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 499 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #959,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Guilty Pleasure March 26 2012
By E. Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book has so many plot twists, I'm going to try to avoid spoilers, and just try to describe how it is pure fun.

-------------------

It is a crime that 'Kelley's Heroes', starring Clint Eastwood, generally has two stars out of five in most movie reviews.
You see, sometimes something is so much fun that you have to reward it a bit for simply being so much fun.
This book is like that.

At first it seems to be similar to Turtledove or Conroy: Alternate history.
The you get the talk about wizards and some steam punk. OK, you figure, the wizards are the people who understand technology. Of course they would be considered wizards. Suspend a bit of disbelief and you keep reading.

Then as A. Gavin above wrote in his/her review: "Then at about the 70% mark most of the threads pass west of the titular Pillars of Hercules and things get weirder."

The phrase that one would normally say is that the author goes "over the top", but here one must say "went off the edge" (literally).
I kept saying to myself, "Oh c'mon!" But I kept reading.

Unlike books by Robert Conroy (see my reviews of two of his books), Constantine doesn't rely on cliches. In fact, he pushes the envelope, goes in directions that aren't cliche at all, challenges your sense of disbelief, and for most of us probably, pulls it off.

Along the way you meet interesting characters, several of which you will actually care about.
And a given character you come to like may not be a 'good guy'.
While Alexander can be viewed as the 'bad guy', one can view the Greeks, or any number of other groups as the 'bad guys'.
Come to think of it, there are probably only two 'good guys' in the book, and they are in the business of killing people (Hey--that's what mercenaries generally do).

The language is at times a bit too colloquial, including too many instances of the eff-word, but again, the author still managed to hold my interest (thanks to more and more plot twists that in retrospect make sense). The finis is great and sets up the idea for the sequel.
And I liked the 'afterward' by the author in which he discusses what it was like building the alternate universe.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bronze-punk fun! March 25 2012
By A. Gavin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Pillars of Hercules is a very fun read and takes a serious stab at something I haven't really seen before and is very much up my alley. For lack of a better term: bronze-punk.

What we have -- for at least the first two thirds -- is a combination alternate history and speculative technology book, set in 330 BC. Now this is a fun and tumultuous period, that of Alexander the Great and one which was to see (in real life) immense changes in the euro-Asian political scene which shaped the world we know. At the political level, David Constatine is clearly knowledgable and very fond of the period. He speculates on a number of specific deviances from real history: The success of Athens` disastrous (in real history) Sicilican campaign, giving rise to a stronger Athenian Empire. And the survival of both Phillip and Alexander past their fated dates. I found this play out fascinating and entirely reasonable.

To this, he adds a rather extreme amount of extended technology based both on secret discoveries from previous (read Atlantian) civilizations, and real ancient tech amplified by geniuses such as Aristotle who are astoundingly more practical (in the vein of Tony Stark x 1000) then their real life counterparts. Most of these inventions are weapons and war machines. Plenty of this tech does have precedents in the ancient world such as steam engines. But in a society where the cost of labor was nearly zero (slavery being more the rule than the exception) there was no impetuous for mechanization (That would take the depopulating effect of the middle ages and the plague to bring about). I found this stuff fantastic fun. But Constantine does take it a bit far for little purpose in the form of semi-sentient gear work golems and the like (not that I don't have clockwork men if my own in Untimed). The almost magic tech of the "gods" was also a little much. But it was good fun.

Against this rather magnificent backdrop we have an adventure and war story of lightning pace and heroic proportions. Point of view-wise about two-thirds of the story is told by a Gaulic mercenary who is along for the ride with a Persian noblewoman "in the know" about some of this extreme tech in her quest to stop Alexander from taking over the world. The big political scope of the book involves Alexander, having survived his in-real-life fatal illness/poisoning, and who goes on to try and conquer the Western Mediterranean from the Athenian Empire. In the other third of the narrative we see Akexander's plots and conquests through the eyes of a couple of his generals and foes. One of these, his right hand man, gets a good number of pages and has a developed POV. Most of the others serve as human cameras.

The first two-thirds of the book is therefore mostly glorious (and very fun) high swashbuckling action on the part of the merc or generals in the midst of a near-continuous series of huge battles, sieges, daring breakins, escapes, and naval chases. There isn't much focus here on emotions of character arcs. The characters aren't cardboard either, just fun, and free of internal serious flaws that need resolving. And the action is often so grand as to completely stretch the reality factor. But it is good fun and reminds me of some of the best Philip Jose Farmer.

Then at about the 70% mark most of the threads pass west of the titular Pillars of Hercules and things get weirder. Not that the pace of action lets up, but instead of being set in the likes of Alexandria, Athens, Syracuse, or Carthage, literally descends into a sort of mechanized Hades filled with machines of the gods. While well executed, and providing the book with a larger mythic framework, I personally can't help but think Constantine went too far. That the overall effect would have been a little more satisfying sticking to this fantastic world closer to our own.

Still, highly, highly recommended.

Andy Gavin, author of The Darkening Dream
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Action Packed and Full of Surprises March 22 2012
By MiniPhette - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is Hellenistic Steampunk, unlike anything I've read. Alexander the Great is the main villain of this book, and Constantine renders him even more terrifying by giving the Great King both dark magic and steam engines.
There is a sprawling cast of characters and the action keeps cutting between them as they fight wars, go questing and try to kill each other. Alexander's right-hand man is Eumenes, who is both honorable and trying to navigate the court politics while keeping his head. On the other side is Lugorix, a barbarian mercenary who has all the best lines, and who is in the middle of an attempted usurpation. I have a soft spot for Eurydice, a girl genius who is covered in tattoos. The style is reminiscent of Neil Stephenson and the book has one of those crash-bang endings where everything collides in a jaw-dropping manner.
The language and dialogue of this book is decidedly contemporary, which will disappoint those who like a lot of thous and thines in their fantasy literature. I found it hilarious, myself.
I don't want to describe to the plot. It's got so many twists and turns that practically anything I say about could be a spoiler. I never knew what was going to happen next. It was a wild ride and very good.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tries to Do Too Much, Poorly Written; 2.5 Stars Oct. 30 2012
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An overly ambitious and not particularly well written fantasy novel. This book contains a lot of good ideas, too many, in fact. The Pillars...starts out as an alternative history novel. A timeline in which several changes occur in Classical history. The great Athenian expedition to Sicily succeeds, leading to a larger Athenian Empire. Macedonia still becomes a major force but Alexander survives his illness in Babylon and returns to the Mediterranean. Constantine then piles on a series of other devices. An early industrial revolution is also occurring, elements of Ptolemaic cosmology are introduced, followed by use of the Atlantis myth and some other mythological devices. The breakneck plotting is essentially that of a Hollywood adventure movie and the quality of writing has about the same depth and quality of a Hollywood adventure movie. This is a shame because there are a lot of clever ideas embedded in this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gearpunk Roller Coaster April 28 2012
By Jon Christian Allison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
You can draw a direct line from 1940's cinema to Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. Likewise, you can draw a direct line from the modern Hollywood action blockbuster to this novel.

And that's a point that I'm sure some would count against it. But consider: when Hollywood nails it (like, say, "The Dark Knight") then the blockbuster becomes an exhilarating blend of eye candy, comedy, pathos, and even a little deep thought. Yeah, it's not going to win many academy awards, but, by God, it's *entertaining*.

And that's what this book is: entertainment. Like the blockbuster, its aim (after the initial windup to the top of the tracks) is capturing the speed and intensity of a themepark roller coaster. Hell, there's even a bizarre amusement park-like ride within the book itself that will leave you laughing with both the ridiculousness and fun of the whole thing. Constantine knows pacing; he knows setups and payoffs. He knows explosions and certain-death falls and unexpected rescues.

For this effect, he sacrifices some character development. Detailed descriptions are tossed to keep the thing moving at high speed. Internal logic fuzzes out at a couple points.

But by the end you don't care so much, because you've been entertained. Which, as mentioned above, is the entire point. Recommended.

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