Usually, it's the cinema that draws endless inspiration from the novel, but the phenomenal success of the film Gladiator appears to have spawned a renewed interest in the historical epic and readers are being treated to a host of new novels set in the ancient world - some splendid, some meretricious. This first in a trilogy set in ancient Greece is thankfully among the former. The shade of Robert Graves haunts the pages, with the elegant sleight-of-hand he practised in I, Claudius (modern, idiomatic dialogue in the mouths of ancient protagonists) handled with similar assurance. Manfredi's book has already sold 500,000 copies in Italy alone, and enjoyed similar success throughout Europe. But England is more resistant to this kind of blockbuster and will it do as well here? The auguries are good. Alexander the Great is shown in the early stages of his development. Born to Philip of Macedonia and the imposing Queen Olympias, Alexander's hectic progress to manhood includes friendships with Aristotle and Ptolemy. The novel draws to a close as Alexander sets sail to conquer the civilised world. Despite the odd purple passage, this is writing of tremendous gusto and invention, and there is likely to be a ready market for the successive volumes.