Bronze Age Greece

Two generations have passed since the Greeks returned victorious from Troy. The rich and powerful Mycenean Empire feels impregnable. But danger is stirring on its borders. In Pylos, the kingdom of the renowned Nestor, his great-grandson Alkmaion, heir to his throne, is plagued by fears that he may not be able to live up to the heroic deeds of his ancestors. An accidental act of sacrilege in the worship of the Great Goddess sends him on a long voyage to seek purification, and in the course of his travels he encounters the tribe of the Dorians and realizes that they are preparing for war. But can he rouse his complacent elders quickly enough to counter the threat?

As the invading Dorians sweep through the country, bringing devastation in their wake, Alkmaion and his lover Alectryon journey to Mycenae itself to seek help from the descendants of Agamemnon, and then further still to Athens. In the battles that follow Alkmaion has plenty of opportunity to prove his courage.

I leapt into my chariot and cried, ‘Drive, Neritos!’

We surged forward and the rest of the company closed in behind us. Alectryon took his station on my right, Melanthos on my left. In a tight, compact formation we swept round the shoulder of the hill and up behind the mass of Dorians. As we came in sight of them I raised the war cry and heard it taken up all around me. The Dorians checked and faced about and on the far side our men rallied and returned to the attack. Then we were among them. Faces appeared before me, teeth bared, eyes glittering and I thrust with my spear and dragged it back until my arm ached.

For a few moments it seemed as if we should clear that section of the beach. Then I heard behind me a terrifying, half-forgotten sound – the trumpets of the Dorians. Not one this time but many, braying and shrieking as a fresh wave of men stormed up the beach. The effect was disastrous. Horses reared and plunged and our men everywhere lowered their weapons and cried out with terror.

I tried to shout above the din, Don’t be afraid! It is only their war horns!’

Then the fight surged around me again. There was no longer room to manoeuvre the chariot. I shouted to Neritos, ‘Keep close behind me!’ and leapt down to fight on foot.

The time that followed was filled with one grim encounter after another. Some were brief – a new face, a thrust with my sword and the face disappeared. Others were longer – a bitter duel in which the man behind the opposing shield became for a moment a personality. I thrust and cut and parried, my body wet with sweat and my ears deafened with shouts and the clash of metal. I had lost sight of most of my followers. Alectryon had been at my side to begin with, his shield guarding my right flank, but then he had disappeared. At the back of my mind was the terrible suspicion that he had fallen and was lying somewhere in the mêlèe, dead or wounded. Only Neritos was still with me, keeping the chariot so near that I could feel the breath of the horses on the back of my neck.

‘As good as Mary Renault’  Louis de Berniere

What reviewers say:

I absolutely loved this book. I’ve been a fan of historical fiction about the ancient world ever since reading Mary Renault’s Theseus books when I was in my teens and ever since then I’ve sought to replicate the experience, without much luck. Annabel Lyon’s THE GOLDEN MEAN came close, but Hilary Green’s THE LAST HERO could almost have been written by Renault herself, it feels so authentic, so meticulously researched and so tightly written. I thoroughly recommend it. Annaliese, London.

I have always said, to anyone who cared to know, that one of the first books to pique my interest in Ancient Greece was The King Must Die by Mary Renault. That fact made it easy for me to decide to read The Last Hero by Hilary Green given the comparison to Mary Renault’s work. The main story line here is about Alkmaion the great grandson of Nestor, famed warrior and counselor to Agamemnon during the siege at Troy and King of Pylos. Alkmaion is the heir to the throne at a time during a mass migration of peoples in the North that has a ripple like effect throughout western Asia and eastern Europe. It is also a time when bronze was being replaced with iron. These two currents have disastrous results for Pylos when the iron wielding Dorians come a calling.

The author has taken this story to the level of Greek tragedy as time and time again Alkmaion is faced with decisions and situations that have ironic repercussions whether they are personal or more widespread. An example without trying to give away too much, is when Alkmaion almost kills his best friend and former lover when they are both trying to save the same damsel in distress.

The author also uses the religious aspect of that period to great effect. The Great Goddess and her Mysteries play an important part in the lives of many of the characters. The devotion and fear of Her followers is a prime example of how well defined and intriguing the characters are. Invoking feelings of sympathy, sadness and at times great happiness the author has the reader involved in the lives of her creations. The descriptions of life during that time, the nature of the land, the glimpses of the mighty citadel of Mycenae, etc, add to the enjoyment and beauty of this well crafted tale. I rate this as 4 stars. Paul Bennet, Salem USA

“The Last Hero” by Hilary Green was a great read. The story moves at a fast pace and the characters are well developed and interesting. The author uses the collapse of the Mycenaean civilization as a main theme of her narrative and presents a plausible scenario to explain that collapse. As an archaeologist who’s been working at Pylos for the last 20+ years, I found the historical and topographical details to be very accurate. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes historical fiction and also for classroom use. Sharon Stocker.

I have been a devoted Mary Renault fan almost all my adult life. For me no book quite rivals The King Must Die, except perhaps Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall - and this from a first class English Literature graduate and a secondary school English teacher of 27 years standing! I have spent decades looking for something as good without success, until that is I recently discovered the Last Hero, on the day of my 53rd birthday. Admittedly I haven't finished it yet, but I am finding it spellbinding. De Bernieres (I am a great fan of his too) was quite right in his praise: it is just like Renault. The prose is tightly composed with none of the fussiness of similar novels in the genre; and the period details are most convincing. Simply put when I'm reading this book I find myself there, with the characters of the story! Thank you so much for making my dream of another novel of the quality of The King Must Die come true. If you have any plans to set  another novel in this time period I would be delighted to hear about it