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Colossus: A Novel Hardcover – May 26, 2015
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“A helluva great read! Alexander Cole has unleashed all the gods of war in this thrilling adventure! . . . A young captain of elephants who seeks heroism at all costs, and discovers the face of pure evil staring back through the flames of vanquished citadels. Part romance, part orgy of violence, the author skillfully brings to life a vibrant and exotic historical period. I can't wait for the sequel.” ―Noble Smith, author of SPARTANS AT THE GATES
“A fantastic read.” ―Wilbur Smith
About the Author
COLIN FALCONER is an International Bestselling Author. His fiction comes from dedicated research and what he calls a quest for Hemingway's ghost: characters with a passion for life, for love and the courage to face down their demons. He was born in London and has worked as a journalist and as a scriptwriter in radio and television. He currently lives in Barcelona.
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Top Customer Reviews
When I picked up Colossus I was expecting to read about a massive beast crashing through masses of infantry, and I certainly got this. But I got so much more. I never expected Colossus to be a love story. Colin Falconer wove a wonderful relationship into this story filled with death and destruction. It was not your typical relationship, more of a, “You can’t always get what you want…” a la Rolling Stones. It was well paced and not forced at all. Gajendra and his love interest’s relationship developed slowly and unexpectedly, you might say that “they get what the need.”
What I enjoyed most about Colossus was of course the elephants. The details that Falconer gets into regarding their characteristics, their habits and their mucus was essential to the story. I imagine he spent many hours researching these gentle animals, who made for incredible weapons of war.
It was nice to finally find an author willing to tackle Alexander. He was probably the greatest general of antiquity and there are too few works of fiction drawing from his life and times. By reading Colossus, I got a real feeling for what it was like to fight under such a great leader.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Imagine for a moment what could have happened if Alexander the Great had not died – allegedly of poison - in Babylon, if the plot to kill him had failed, as a number of others had previously, and if the plotters – two high ranking Macedonians the chief of the Elephant force – had been foiled, caught and paid the price of their failure. The great conqueror would have pursued the plans he was making at the time, and, given his megalomania, he would had attacked Carthage and then attempted to conquer Sicily.
There are a lot of excellent features in this book, especially for someone who – like me – is rather fond of the Hellenistic period in general, and Alexander, the Successors and the Macedonians in particular. Alexander, unsurprisingly, holds a major role in this book, but he is far from being the hero. In fact, Alexander’s portrait is that of an entirely unsympathetic, utterly self-centred, cruel, sadistic and paranoid tyrant, although he does have military genius. It is essentially the modern interpretation of Alexander, that of the Greek “God of War” (Ares) which borders on madness and believes, and makes the rest of the world believe, that he is invincible. This characterisation corresponds to the Conqueror towards the end of his life. It is rather superb. Alexander is shown as a rather “dark” character and as a parricide, but there are also a few glitches. For instance and surprisingly given the importance she had in his life, there is nothing about his mother Olympias.
The real heroes are a young Indian boy named Gajendra and, even more so, his elephant, aptly named Colossus. The latter is perhaps the only character that is entirely sympathetic in the novel. Gajendra, the Indian elephant boy who becomes a general in a rather rushed “rags to riches” story and thanks to a couple of strokes of luck, is devoured by his ambition and draws the attention of Alexander who makes him into his favourite, for a short time. Alexander’s generals, with the exception of Nearchos, appear as a rather shadowy bunch of sycophants, which is somewhat exaggerated since a number of them were themselves rather excellent generals. The Carthaginian princess is a spoilt little brat, at least initially, and so on. Colossus the elephant, however, is the only selfless character in the book, and it is this, together with his indefectible loyalty that none of the humans seem to come close to that makes him into the only really sympathetic character.
Then there are the battles and the siege and fall of Carthage. The siege and the fall of Carthage is in fact heavily inspired by what would really happen almost 180 years later, when the city fell to the Romans and was sacked and completely destroyed. Some scenes and features are directly and skilfully adapted from Polybius, such as the building of the mole and the Carthaginians’ desperate resistance and street fighting after their walls had been stormed. The siege by the Macedonians is half as long as that of the Romans would be in reality, if only because it is vigorously prosecuted by Alexander who has no time to waste.
The battles, both before the gates of Carthage and before Syracuse, give the leading role to the éléphants; They are vividly and superbly described, although, and unsurprisingly, with quite a bit of blood and gore. In both cases, as with the last battle against the Carthaginians, Alexander’s battle tactics are abundantly described and illustrated, including by the Macedonian King himself who, with his usual and casual arrogance, lectures and teaches Gajendra. What is not mentioned, however, is how much these tactics owed to his father Philippe II, King of Macedonia, starting with the oblique battle order and continuing with the cavalry assault on the enemy’s weak point. The charges of the elephants are, of course, among the most impressive descriptions. However, the advance of the pike phalanx and the tactics developed by the Silver Shield veterans and the Agrianian javelin throwers are also superb, and historically correct.
While the author has carefully researched his topic (for instance Macedonian silver coins were called “siglos”), there were however a few glitches and improbable elements here and there. It is, for instance, rather difficult to believe that Alexander would have set off to conquer Carthage with so few Macedonians. He had some 13000 including 2000 Companions cavalry in Babylon when he died and that this was in addition to the army of around 11000 discharged veterans which were marching home towards Macedonia when he died. While many of these were fractious, no other infantry could match them at the time, not even the Asiatic “successor” infantry that had been trained to fight with pikes.
Then there are a few other glitches also. It is, for instance, hard to believe that Greek cities would have willingly and unanimously sided with a Macedonian general, even if it was to fight against another. In fact, once the news of Alexander’s death reached Greece, the cities massively rebelled against Antipater and the Macedonians. However, between Greece and Sicily, there would however be more than enough Greek mercenaries to fight on all sides, Carthaginians included. There are also a few glitches that I would consider to be typos. At one point, for instance, the Carthaginian princess is mentioned as having “blond curls”, which is highly unlikely, unless she was an Iberian princess (like Hannibal’s wife, for instance).
Five stars for a superb read and despite the glitches…
Gajendra is a mahavat, an elephant handler in Alexander's army. He is the only mahavat who can control Colossus, the largest of Alexander's elephants. Alexander is pleased with Gajendra, less so with his own captain, whose cruelty toward Colossus would lead to his death by trampling but for Gajendra's repeated interventions to calm the elephant's rage.
The novel begins in Babylon as Alexander's army trains for an attack upon Carthage. Gajendra deals with a case of elephant rivalry, uncovers a plot, and chastely pursues the woman of his dreams before marching Colossus off to war. Gajendra naturally proves to be a brilliant tactician as well a wizard with elephants.
Another part of the story begins in Carthage, where Mara has just lost her baby. Her father, Hanno, is charged with defending Carthage from Alexander's army. Knowing he cannot stand up to Alexander, Hanno is more interested in the defense of his daughter. The two storylines mate about a third of the way into the novel.
The battle imagery is vivid. I had never given much thought to fighting a war with elephants but Colin Falconer clearly has. The tactical discussions are lucid and the descriptions of elephants in combat are exciting. If nothing else, Colossus inspires an appreciation of elephants. It is easy to understand why Alexander found them to be fearsome instruments of war, but using them in that way was a cruel exploitation of such remarkable creatures.
Colossus is not a deep novel and the plot is not particularly surprising. The story is not historically accurate (at least according to Plutarch) but this is a work of fiction -- a "what might have happened" view of history -- so that didn't matter to me. Given the clear intent to manipulate the reader in obvious ways, I was surprised by my willingness to be manipulated. Colossus is a "feel good" novel that pushes all the right buttons.