BOOK REVIEW: The King Must Die – by Mary Renault

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Title: The King Must Die
(Theseus Series #1)
Author: Mary Renault
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, Fantasy
First published: 1958
Finished reading: September 19th 2013
Pages: 356

Rating 3

“A man is at his youngest when he thinks he is a man, not yet realizing that his actions must show it.”

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Mary Renault tells the story of a boy-king, Theseus, whose adventures are roughly based on the Greek Theseus legend. Various changes are made to make the story more plausible, and for me it ruins a bit the fantasy of the original myths round Theseus. The beginning of The King Must Die is a tad slow and confusing, which doesn’t encourage readers to continue… But luckily I managed to continue reading and the story did become more interesting after the initial chapters.

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The story begins in Theseus’ homeland, where he grows up to be a short but very agil young man, trying to get to know who is his real father besides Poseidon. When he discovers he is the heir of king Aigeus in Athens, he decides to travel to meet his destiny (moira). He is stopped on the way by the queen of Eleusis and becomes the year-king of this woman-dominated land. Fate decides this isn’t his final stop and he manages to make it to Athene, where he finally meets his father. This isn’t the last stop either though; for it is the island of Krete, the home of the famous Minotaur.Theseus is send with other unfortunate youngsters to Krete to participate in the famous bullfights in the Labyrinth. In groups, they ‘dance’ with the bulls and as they do, trying to survive and not end up as a sacrifice for the great Bull of the Sea, Poseidon…

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It’s an alteration of the most famous episode in the Theseus myth where he confronts the fantastical half-man half bull commonly known as the Minotaur. Mary Renault altered the story to make it more plausible, and the mythical part sadly was lost in this adaptation. But still it makes an interesting and moving story about the adventures and struggles of young Theseus to survive in the ancient Greek world.. If you can make it through the first chapters, it’s definitely worth it to try and finish the book.

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