Scott Oden presents ... His Novels
The Lion of Kairo (2010)
To an excerpt of the novel
Scotts comment on the book ...
The Lion of Cairo is an homage tale, a paean to the work of Robert E. Howard, and out of all my books it is the one Im most satisfied with. Its inspiration came from a variety of sources such as the REH tale Gates of Empire and a chapter in Harold Lambs The Crusades: The Flame of Islam describing the political and martial morass surrounding the Christian King of Jerusalems numerous bids to conquer the crumbling Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt. For six years, in campaign after campaign, he tried to wrest control of Egypt from the Moslems. Each time, the Egyptian drove him off. This had the makings of a good story: intrigue, pitched battles, and larger-than-life personalities. Still, though, it needed something. Thats when I came across a slenderyet informativetreatise by Bernard Lewis called The Assassins. Early in their history, the Assassins of Alamut were close allies of the Fatimid Caliphs. Yet, as so often is the case, personalities clashed; promises were broken, and the Assassins became instead relentless enemies of Egypt . . . but, what if . . .
What if a century later the Assassins expressed a desire to mend fences? What if this embassy came during a Christian campaign to conquer Egypt? And what if the Assassins sent their most ferocious killer to aid the Caliph? Assad was born from that line of questioning.
The lore and mythology of the Assassins fascinated me to no end. While on the surface they acted like the medieval incarnation of al-Qaeda, certain of their myths had a decidedly Christian element. By the latter part of the 12th century, the notion that the sects founder, Hasan-i Sabbah, would rise Christ-like and lead them to victory had become prevalent. In preparation for this event, which most believed would occur in their lifetime, the leader of the Assassins at the time absolved his followers of the need to adhere to the laws of the Quran. This act made real a maxim often attributed to Hasan-i Sabbah: Nothing is forbidden; all is permitted.
But, the most difficult part of writing The Lion of Cairo was balancing the history with the fantasy. The book has sorcery: ancient Egyptian magic and foul necromancy of the sort youd be apt to find in the pages of the Book of a Thousand and One Nights; it has an enchanted knife and an underlying mythology that seems, at first glance, to be at odds with its place in the real world. It IS 12th century Cairo, but at the same time its the Cairo of the Arabian Nights, where djinn roam abroad, magic rings work, and princes are made from the sons of tailors. Balance has been the key, I think. Balance and looking at the sorcerous elements from the point-of-view of the Arabswho to this day have an unshakeable belief in magic and the supernatural.
Memnon of Rhodes (375-333 BCE) walked in the footsteps of giants. As a soldier, sailor, statesman, and general, he was, in the words of Diodorus of Sicily, outstanding in courage and strategic grasp. A contemporary of Demosthenes and Aristotle, Memnon rose from humble origins to command the whole of western Asia in a time of strife and slaughter. To his own people, he was a traitor, to his rivals, a mercenary.
But, to the King of Kings, his majesty Darius III of Persia, Memnon was the one man capable of defending Asia Minor from the rising power of the barbaric Macedonians. In a war pitting Greek against Greek, Memnon proved his quality beyond measure. His enemies fought for glory and gold; Memnon fought for something more, for loyalty, for honor, and for duty.
He fought for the love of Barsine, a woman of remarkable beauty and grace. Most of all, he fought for the promise of peace. Through the deathbed recollections of a mysterious woman, the life of Memnon unfolds with brilliant clarity. It is a record of his triumphs and tragedies, his loves and losses, and of the determination that drove him to stand against the most renowned figure of the ancient worldthe ambitious young conqueror called Alexander the Great.
Whereas in Men of Bronze and The Lion of Cairo I paid homage to Robert E. Howard, with Memnon my inspiration came from a different author: Mary Renault. Her lyrical novels of ancient Greece served as textbooks to me, on how best to make the past come alive for the modern reader. This I paired with my accustomed love for blood and thunder to create, I hope, a unique look at the Hellenistic world of Alexander the Great.
I am often asked, why Memnon? Why not write about Alexander the Great? Blame for that can also be laid at Mary Renaults doorstep; after her excellent trilogy on Alexander (Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, and Funeral Games) and the many books from other authors since I despaired of writing anything about Alexander himself . . . until I struck upon the idea to write it from the point-of-view of his enemies. And Memnon of Rhodes was, according to the ancient sources, the only man Alexander feared.
Despite his peculiar position in history as Alexanders foil, surprisingly little is known about Memnon: he came from Rhodes, but nothing is ever mentioned of his father. We know he married into the Persian royal family (via Barsine, the daughter of Artabazus of Dascylium, who in turn was the grandson of the Persian king, Artaxerxes II), but he is only ever spoken of as a mercenary. This last, especially, was a misconception I wanted to set right. To do that, however, I had to make a great deal up about him. I pray I did not do the good man a disservice . . .
Men of Bronze (2005)
It is 526 B.C. and the empire of the Pharaohs is dying, crushed by the weight of its own antiquity. Decay riddles its cities, infects its aristocracy, and weakens its armies. While across the expanse of Sinai, like jackals drawn to carrion, the forces of the King of Persia watch and wait. Leading the fight to preserve the soul of Egypt is Hasdrabal Barca, Pharaohs deadliest killer.
Possessed of a rage few men can fathom and fewer can withstand, Barca struggles each day to preserve the last sliver of his humanity. But, when one of Egypts most celebrated generals, a Greek mercenary called Phanes, defects to the Persians, it triggers a savage war that will tax Barcas skills, and his humanity, to the limit. From the political wasteland of Palestine, to the searing deserts east of the Nile, to the streets of ancient Memphis, Barca and Phanes play a desperate game of cat-and-mouse a game culminating in the bloodiest battle of Egypts history. Caught in the midst of this violence is Jauharah, a slave in the House of Life.
She is Arabian, dark-haired and proud a healer with gifts her blood, her station, and her gender overshadow. Though her hands tend to Barcas countless wounds, it is her spirit that heals and changes him. Once a fearsome demigod of war, Hasdrabal Barca becomes human again. A man now motivated as much by love as anger. Nevertheless honor and duty have bound Barca to the fate of Egypt. A final conflict remains, a reckoning set to unfold in the dusty hills east of Pelusium. There, over the dead of two nations, Hasdrabal Barca will face the same choice as the heroes of old: Death and eternal fame or obscurity and long life.
Before I wrote Men of Bronze, I had been trying for years (eleven, actually) to make something of myself as a writer; Id published an amateur roleplaying game as a teen and later sold a couple of short stories to small magazines that didnt pay a thing beyond contributor copies. But what I wanted to write was a Conan novel for Tornever mind the fact that I had nothing substantial in the way of publishing credits to convince them to trust me with their licensed property. I wanted to do it, and thats what I did. Or rather, thats what I started.
Started. Stopped. Restarted. Threw away. Rewrote. Deleted. Plotted again. Rewrote. Stopped. Wrung hands over. Started again. Repeat all this for eleven years. My friends probably still remember the exact number of drafts I went through on just the first three chapters of Conan: Shadow of Vengeance. To my recollection it was somewhere in the double digits.
In 97 or early 98, I received a stern bit of advice from a friend who was also a published author, James Byron Huggins. Hed read my three Conan chapters, liked them, but wondered what I planned to do should Tor reject them. I couldnt turn around and sell it elsewhere, so he suggested I start over with my own characters. From that conversation Hasdrabal Barca was born. My indomitable Phoenician, whose name I pilfered from Harold Lambs biography of Hannibal and whose personality I lifted from Robert E. Howards Conan and Homers Achilles. In those early years, however, he was a character without a setting. For a time he was a hired killer caught up in the politics of pre-Islamic South Arabia (Al-Saffah: a Fable of Ancient Arabia), then an agent of Babylons last king, Nabonidus, fighting Lovecraftian horrors (Of Dead Gods and Kings: a Novel of the Ancient World). Finally, in 99, after watching Victor Mature in the film version of Mika Waltaris The Egyptian, Hasdrabal Barca immigrated to the Land of the Pharaohs. Hed found his setting; now, all he needed was a story . . .
Eschewing the trend of setting Egyptian fiction in the New Kingdom (the era of Akhenaton, Tut, Seti, and the Great Rameses), I plopped Barca down in the Late Period, specifically the 26th Dynasty. I discovered the heart of my storyand my villainin the pages of Herodotus, who told a tale about a fellow countryman, a mercenary soldier of Halicarnassus, whose perfidy helped the Persians conquer Egypt (Book III, sections 1-15). He told the Greek side; I would tell the Egyptian side. Herodotus also gave me my title: Men of Bronze, which was what the Egyptians called their heavily-armored Greek and Carian mercenaries. I was set, and on December 24, 2000, I wrote the opening paragraphs to what would become Men of Bronze . . .
Hailing from the hills of rural North Alabama, Scott Oden's fascination with far-off places began when his oldest brother introduced him to the staggering and savage vistas of Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb.
Though Oden started writing his own tales at the age of fourteen, it would be many years before anything would come of it. In the meantime, he had a brief and tempestuous fling with academia before retiring to the private sector, where he worked the usual roster of odd jobsfrom delivering pizza to stacking paper in the bindery of a printing company to clerking at a video store. Nowadays, Oden writes full-time from his family home near Somerville.
The Lion of Cairo is his third novel.