The Alexander Cipher. A Reading Group Guide

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1 The Alexander Cipher A Reading Group Guide

2 A Conversation with Will Adams Were you always interested in Egyptian archaeology/history? What sort of research did you do when writing your books? Did you visit Egypt? I was actually more interested in Greek myths than Egyptian history when I was growing up, and my fascination with Alexander the Great grew out of that, because he always struck me as being as close to a Greek hero as any man could reasonably get. I was backpacking through Egypt many years ago when I heard that his tomb had been discovered at Siwa Oasis, so I made the trek out there to see it, only to discover it wasn t Alexander s tomb at all. But Siwa was gorgeous, so I spent a few days there, and the more I learned of the extraordinary story of what happened to Alexander s body after his death, the more convinced I became that it would make fantastic material for a thriller. As for the research, yes, I visited both Egypt and Greece several times scouting for good locations and trying to capture local detail the atmosphere but that wasn t exactly a hardship, as they re both wonderful countries to spend time in. What is your favorite scene in the book and why? I think the scene that I enjoyed writing the most was the introduction of Augustin at the beginning of chapter six. It s really liberating to write characters who behave just as badly as they want to (in ways that I d never have the courage to do myself); but I also wanted to convey the impression that Augustin is exactly the kind of friend you d want in a crisis, precisely because he has such little regard for convention.

3 Is Daniel Knox modeled after a real person? No. Other than that he s the person I daydream myself to be when I m thinking up plot twists and possible predicaments; so I suppose his basic outlook is similar to mine, only with courage, resourcefulness, intelligence, knowledge and a bunch of other virtues I conspicuously lack. Gaille, on the other hand, was originally based on a French Egyptologist I met the first time I went to Siwa. But I ve rewritten the story (and her character) so many times that I don t suppose there s any resemblance left. Knox and Gaille share the unfortunate similarity that they are both without families, did you do that purposely? It was deliberate in that I needed to give them both back-stories that would explain their current circumstances, and which would give them a shared history too. I wasn t particularly trying to make a point about grief bringing people together, though loss has obviously affected them both substantially in different ways. You depict the discovery of Alexander the Great s final resting place. How did you come up with the theory that placed the body in that location? There are plenty of unanswered questions about what happened to Alexander s body after his death, not least the long delay between bringing him to Egypt and moving him up to Alexander. My novel gives a possible explanation of that I d like to think it was a plausible explanation, but of course the book is fiction, not history.

4 Is your depiction of Alexander accurate to archeological/historical research? How sure are historians in their knowledge of Alexander and his life? Where did you take liberties in the creation of your story? Several contemporaries of Alexander wrote accounts of his life, but unfortunately none of them survive (except in fragments cited by later historians). To make matters more confusing, all of these early accounts were written by people with agendas of their own. That said, Alexander left such a strong imprint on the world that the basic elements of his life-story aren t in much dispute (unlike with Pharaoh Akhenaten, the central historical figure in my second book The Exodus Quest). As for taking liberties My rule of thumb is to stick as closely as possible to accepted history when I m setting up the story (or, if the history is in dispute, to find a way to let the reader know the various sides of the debate). But everything that happens or is discovered during the course of the novel itself should be assumed to be fictional, but possible. For example, Daniel Knox discovers a necropolis in Alexandria containing the burial caskets of a group of shieldbearers. Alexander s shield-bearers did exist, and were some of the most remarkable soldiers in history, but the necropolis itself is fictional, as are the characters of Akylos and his comrades. Were there any facts about Alexander and his life that you couldn t include in the book, but which you found especially interesting? Yes. I rewrote the book so many times that I must have cut out dozens of stories about Alexander (I think it s important with books like this only to introduce history when it fits the narrative, not just because you find it interesting). I think my favorite unused story about Alexander was when he contracted a bad fever from swimming in the Cydnus river, and was treated by his physician Philip the Greek. Alexander received a letter warning him that Philip was in the pay of the Persians, and would try to poison him. Alexander drank the purgative

5 that Philip had just prepared for him at the same time as he handed the letter to Philip to read for himself an extraordinary demonstration of faith in his friends. What advice would you have for other aspiring authors? Everyone tells you how important perseverance is. When I was twenty or so, I thought that (while that was probably excellent advice for other people) it had no application to me, as I was bound to be offered a huge deal by the end of next week, or next month at the very outside. Twenty years later, still without an offer, I began to see what they were getting at. But perseverance by itself is not much use. You ve also got to learn from your failures. Publishers and agents didn t reject me for all those years because they got a kick out of it; they rejected me because my books weren t good enough. Being able to look critically at your own work, and improve it where necessary, is absolutely vital. Everyone has different areas of weakness, but I think the biggest breakthrough for me came when I realized that my job wasn t to impress readers so much as to entertain them. There s a lot of vanity involved in wanting to be a writer, after all; but actually (in genre fiction, at least) the less the reader notices the writer, the better. Further Reading: Please list a few books for readers interested in delving deeper into the life of Alexander the Great or Egyptology. The history of Alexander the Great I relied on most heavily was the one by Robin Lane-Fox, though some people find it too romanticized. For a less admiring take, try AB Bosworth. Among the many fictionalized accounts of Alexander s life, my favorite is The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault. The third book (Funeral Games) also gives an idea of the political wrangling that took place after Alexander s death.

6 For more information on Alexander s tomb try Alexander s Tomb by Nicholas Saunders and The Lost Tomb Of Alexander The Great by Andrew Chugg For an introduction to the archaeological history of the locations in the book, Jean-Yves Empereur s Alexandria Rediscovered and Siwa Oasis by Ahmed Fakhry

7 Questions for Discussion 1. Why was it so important for Gaille to visit the spot where her father died? 2. What is Gaille s grudge against Knox? Do you think her feelings were vindicated? If you were Gaille, would you have held such a strong grudge against Knox over all those years? 3. Why do you think Nessim was so offended that Knox said he didn t have honor? How does the definition of honor differ in various countries and cultures? 4. Mohammed learns that because he forced the doctors to care for his daughter, several other patients will not get their required treatment and will most likely die. Do you think it was a mistake for Mohammad to demand she be treated? What would you have done? 5. Why do the Macedonians, specifically the Dragoumis family, plan to incite a war? Do you think this is the most effective way to achieve their goal? 6. Were you surprised that Knox helped them find the tomb of Alexander the Great? Do you think if he was only risking his own life, and not Gaille s, he would have acted differently?

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