Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

The King Must Die current cover

The King Must Die (1958)

current Vintage Books trade paperback
338 pages (left)
Cover illustration by John Rush

older Pocket books edition (right)

The King Must Die older cover

From the back cover of the new edition:
       The King Must Die is the scintillating story of the mythical hero Theseus, slayer of monsters, abductor of princesses, and king of Athens. He emerges from these pages as a clearly defined personality: Brave and aggressive, tough and quick, highly sexed and touchily proud. The core of the story is Theseus' Cretan adventure, and the book ends with his return to Athens after successfully going through the labyrinth and slaying the Minotaur.

Read for group discussion on October 24, 2001

How we each rated this book
Dan 9 Amy 7 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 7 Barb -
Aaron 7 Cynthia -
Jackie - Ron -

Aaron's Commentary  Mary Renault - The King Must Die

       Mary Renault does an excellent job of bringing the ancient Mediterranean civilization to life.  She is able to transform mythic characters, particularly Theseus, into believable flesh and blood human beings.  I enjoyed seeing Greek mythology, which we now view simply as an amusing collection of stories, turn into a serious religion through the eyes of Theseus.  I appreciated that Renault leaves it open to interpretation whether the gods really are taking an interest in Theseus's adventures.

       All of this is admirable throughout the book, but it is only when Theseus arrives at Crete and becomes a bull dancer that the story truly comes to life.  From that point, with the pace of the narrative picking up and Theseus beginning to show the leadership skills that would make him famous, I first perceived Theseus's tale as an involving story, not just an interesting history.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Mary Renault (1905-1983) (real name Mary Challens) was born in England and died in South Africa.

The Bull From the Sea (1962) continues the story of the Greek mythical hero Theseus which was begun in The King Must Die (1958).

The "Alexander Trilogy" - Alexander the Great historical novels
Fire From Heaven (1969)
The Persian Boy (1972)
Funeral Games (1981) - combat of Alexander's heirs

Other Greek historical novels:
The Last of The Wine (1956)
The Mask of Apollo (1966)
The Praise Singer (1978)

Contemporary fiction novels:
Promise of Love (1939)
Kind are Her Answers (1940)
The Friendly Young Ladies (1944)
The Middle Mist (1945)
Return to Night (1947) - won $150,000 prize from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
North Face (1948)
The Charioteer (1953)

Nonfiction biography:
The Nature of Alexander (1975) - about Alexander the Great

Mary Renault - Wikipedia
The Greek World of Mary Renault
Sparknotes -The King Must Die
Mythography | Review of the Book The King Must Die

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This page was last updated October 21, 2008