DNF Books

Did Not Finish: The Pillars of Hercules by David Constantine

Title: The Pillars of Hercules

Author: David Constantine

Genre: Historical, Steampunk

Publisher: Night Shade Books
Publication date: March 20 2012
Paperback: 320 pages

Alexander, Prince of Macedon, is the terror of the world. Persia, Egypt, Athens . . . one after another, mighty nations are falling before the fearsome conqueror. Some say Alexander is actually the son of Zeus, king of the gods, and the living incarnation of Hercules himself. Worse yet, some say Alexander believes this . . . . The ambitious prince is aided in his conquest by unstoppable war-machines based on the forbidden knowledge of his former tutor, the legendary scientist-mage known as Aristotle. Greek fire, mechanical golems, and gigantic siege-engines lay waste to Alexander”s enemies as his armies march relentlessly west–toward the very edge of the world. Beyond the Pillars of Hercules, past the gateway to the outer ocean, lies the rumored remnants of Atlantis: ancient artifacts of such tremendous power that they may be all that stands between Alexander and conquest of the entire world. Alexander desires that power for himself, but an unlikely band of fugitives-including a Gaulish barbarian, a cynical Greek archer, a cunning Persian princess, and a sorcerer”s daughter-must find it first . . . before Alexander unleashes godlike forces that will shatter civilization. The Pillars of Hercules is an epic adventure that captures the grandeur and mystery of the ancient world as it might have been, where science and magic are one and the same.

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

Why did I read this book: I’ve been reading loads of mythological, historical novels lately. This sounded cool.


This is going to be short. I didn’t finish this book, here is why:

I’ve been in the mood for mythology/historical novels lately and I thought The Pillars of Hercules would fit the bill. It follows Alexander, before he was The Great, as he makes a move against Athens and then moves further West. His unstoppable army has weapons that most people see as Magic but are really Science (based on the forbidden knowledge of such things that his former tutor, Aristotle, has). Meanwhile, a bunch of other characters are doing mysterious stuff: a Persian princess hires two mercenaries (a barbarian from Gaul, a Greek archer) to protect her on her journey to somewhere to search for something and a messenger is on his way somewhere to deliver a message to someone: I stopped reading The Pillar of Hercules at 40% into the book (I read it on my Kindle) and I have no idea what these mysteries are. Probably that is the point of the book but I didn’t care enough to carry on and find out exactly what these people are doing.

The flap copy will tell you that this is supposed to be an epic adventure that captures the grandeur and mystery of the ancient world . But the first 40% of the novel is an extremely boring string of choppy events, with an inordinate amount of info-dump to the point where I, at times, thought I was reading a history book. Details about Alexander, his father, his conquests, etc were clumsily included in the novel, sometimes even interrupting the action. The excerpt below is only but a small example of info dump – at times whole pages where just like this:

His downfall’s thanks to Craterus. Who saw his chance to rid himself of a rival, and used Alexander’s mindset to make it happen. So now he can put a more pliable man in command of the part of the phalanx that’s been left back in Egypt.

It is as though we were supposed to accept the authenticity of the Ancient Greek setting with passages like these but there is only so much researched facts can do. This was even harder when the language was very grating as it sounded SO modern and dated:

“Now let’s aim this fucker.”

“Will you make up your fucking mind.”

“What gives”

“Fuck that.”

“Heavy stuff, probably bullshit”

“Forest must be full of buggers”

Of course, my problem was not all the swearing but how the swearing reads as though the characters of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels moved to Ancient Greece. It doesn’t capture the ancient world as the blurb promises inasmuch as it makes it sound just like ours.

Finally, here is the main reason why I decided to put the book down. There are several view point characters in the book: the Gaul, the Greek archer, another Greek army guy, Alexander’s friend Eumenes and even a RANDOM MESSENGER. Please note how they are all dudes. The thing is: there is a female character that is supposed to be powerful, smart, rich and important. Does she get a voice? No. Does she get to speak a lot, or appear a lot on page? No. In fact, at one point she is kidnapped then rescued by her HEROIC mercenaries. That’s when I stopped reading the book. Granted, she might have gotten a point of view narration at some point but I don’t see why I should wait for more than 40% of a book to see a female character getting a voice.

Quite disappointing.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:

You can read an excerpt HERE.

Rating: DNF – Did Not Finish.

Reading Next: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Buy the Book:

Ebook available for nook


  • Amanda
    March 7, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Wow, those excerpts… Just, wow. Thanks for the warning! Will avoid 🙂

  • AnimeJune
    March 7, 2012 at 7:20 am

    Yeah, this does not sound entertaining at all. But at least there was no great lead-up to it. I’m stuck in Suzanne Collin’s “Mockingjay” right now, and it is painful.

    Also UGH INFODUMPS. I especially hate those with historical novels because it all smacks so much of “LOOK HOW MUCH RESEARCH I DID FOR THIS NOVEL, LOVE MEEEEE”.

    Mysteries and secrets are all well and good, but they don’t mean anything if the author doesn’t create characters I’m invested in. Some people are plot-readers, some people are character-readers. I think ultimately I’m a character reader. If I don’t care about the characters, if I’m not invested in their lives and care about how they turn out, the story and how cool it is doesn’t really matter all that much to me.

  • Bibliotropic
    March 7, 2012 at 9:48 am

    Ouch, that’s not good. I also got a copy of this one for review, because a historical fantasy sounded really appealing, but those are some real problems you brought up, and now I’m not too sure I want to subject myself to it.

  • Linda
    March 7, 2012 at 10:04 am

    This will not go on my “to be read next” list.

  • Estara
    March 7, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Ana, a remedy is on the way to you as we speak – read Judith Tarr’s Lord of the Two Lands, for some really GOOD Alexander the Great and Egypt! She has a history degree and all her historical based fantasy is exquisite – she even has a novel where the first king of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, Otto I. plays a major role – Ars Magica!!

  • KMont
    March 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    *“Now let’s aim this fucker.”*

    Oh man, I so want to use that line in something now, somewhere. I’m going to use it as much as possible. I can’t stop LMAO. What a great line for an ancient historical novel. /sarcasm

    I hear ya on the disappointing (lack of) female representation. Makes me want to aim something pointy at books that do this. Something attached to my hand that’s topped by a nail.

  • Deirdre
    March 8, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    It’s one thing to have characters dropping the f-bomb in a seriues like say, Game of Thrones, where you can make an arguement that since Westeros is a made-up place, linguistic rules don’t apply (and GRRM does try to at least make the speech sound authentically medieval), but to have characters purportedly from Ancient Greece talk like they’re in a B-Grade action movie…wow. Between that and the issues with the female characters, I think I’ll give this one a pass.

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