THE KING MUST DIE retells the story of Theseus, bringing mythology vividly to life.
In myth, Theseus was the slayer of the child-devouring Minotaur of Crete. What the hero might have been in real life is another question, brilliantly explored in THE KING MUST DIE. Drawing on scholarship and archaeological findings at Knossos, Mary Renault's Theseus is an utterly lifelike figure - a king of immense charisma, whose boundless strivings flow from strength and weakness-but also one steered by implacable prophecy.
The story follows Theseus's adventures from Troizen to Eleusis, where the death in the book's title is to take place, and from Athens to Crete, where he learns to jump bulls and is named king of the victims. Richly imbued with the spirit of its time, this is a page-turner as well as a daring act of imagination. Renault's story of Theseus continues with the sequel The Bull from the Sea.
Mary Renault is a shining light to both historical novelists and their readers. She does not pretend the past is like the present, or that the people of ancient Greece were just like us. She shows us their strangeness; discerning, sure-footed, challenging our values, piquing our curiosity, she leads us through an alien landscape that moves and delights us.
Mary Renault's portraits of the ancient world are fierce, complex and eloquent, infused at every turn with her life-long passion for the Classics. Her characters live vividly both in their own time, and in ours - Madeline Miller
I never learned Latin or Greek; I wasn't raised on the classics, even in translation. All my sense of the ancient world - its values, its style, the scent of its wars and passions - comes from Mary Renault. Her Theseus novels are perhaps the most exciting of her Greek fictions. I think I turned to writing historical fiction because of something I learned from Renault: that it lets you shake off the mental shackles of your own era, all the categories and labels, and write freely about what really matters to you - Emma Donoghue
There's much to say about her interweaving of myth and history and, just as interestingly, there's much to wonder at in the way she fills in the large dark spaces where we know next to nothing about the times she describes . . . an important and wonderful writer . . . she set a course into serious-minded, psychologically intense historical fiction that today seems more important than ever - Guardian
Mary Renault (1905-1983) was born in London and educated at St Hughs, Oxford. She trained as a nurse at Oxford's Radcliffe Infirmary, where she met her lifelong partner, Julie Mullard. Her first novel, Purposes of Love, was published in 1937. In 1948, after North Face won a MGM prize worth $150,000, she and Mullard emigrated to South Africa. There, Renault was able to write forthrightly about homosexual relationships for the first time - in her masterpiece, The Charioteer (1953), and then in her first historical novel, The Last of the Wine (1956). Renault's vivid novels set in the ancient world brought her worldwide fame. In 2010 Fire From Heaven was shortlisted for the Lost Booker of 1970.