Last of the Amazons

After writing his best-selling first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance: Golf and the Game of Life (1995), Steven Pressfield turned his attention to historical conflicts, the battle of Thermopylae in Gates of Fire (1998) and the Peloponnesian War in Tides of War (2000). Last of the Amazons is set much earlier, about 1250 B.C.E., and therefore had to be based almost entirely on myths and legends instead of on recorded history.

The central action of the novel is the war that followed the elopement of Antiope, queen of the Amazons, with Theseus, king of Athens. Most of the story is told much later by an Athenian woman, Bones, as part of an annual observance in which she transmits to her daughters the lore taught her by her Amazonian nurse, Selene. Periodically Selene takes over as narrator; at other times, events are seen through the eyes of the Athenian warrior Damon, who loves Selene.

Although initially the Amazonians mean merely to rescue Antiope from the man they consider her abductor, their venture escalates into a struggle between two diametrically opposed ways of life. Characters find themselves choosing between old ways and new, loyalty and love, even life and death. Thus Bones’s sister Europa leaves her family to follow Selene, while Bones chooses to remain at home. Antiope eventually leaves Theseus and her infant son to return to her people and the death she knows awaits her.

Pressman is as effective in tracing such internal conflicts as he is in detailing geography and describing battles. Last of the Amazons has much in it to interest readers, not least of all its implications for gender issues in contemporary society.