Though Odysseus is one of my favorite literary characters, I've never been able to fully enjoy The Odyssey. Maybe it's Nestor and the whole section wi...moreThough Odysseus is one of my favorite literary characters, I've never been able to fully enjoy The Odyssey. Maybe it's Nestor and the whole section with the Lotus Eaterzzzzzzzz....... Where was I? Ah yes, I've read and re-read this several times since sophomore HS English class, and it's a ripping good yarn, but for that old wheezbag Nestor and those flower-munching druggies.(less)
I've heard that this book appeals to both middle-school girls and middle-aged moms. I'm neither, but I used to be a schoolgirl so I gave it a whirl an...moreI've heard that this book appeals to both middle-school girls and middle-aged moms. I'm neither, but I used to be a schoolgirl so I gave it a whirl and tried to get back into that adolescent frame of mind again. (It's been a few years.) Couldn't do it. Even back then, I wanted characterization and intelligence and this book offered neither. However, as a manual of "how not to write", it is extremely valuable - i.e., making your character persistently, stupidly clumsy does not give them personality.
Nor does wringing the thesaurus for every synonym for "attractive" when describing your vampire hero make him good-looking. Not when his actions loudly proclaim "schizophrenic, pent-up control freak."
And I don't even know WTF the author was thinking when she has Bella think that she'd just fall if she tried to run from the shadowy would-be rapists on her tail, so why try to hustle her ass a bit. I mean, seriously. WTF. I don't even know what to say to that. But then Edward comes along in his Volvo or whatevs and saves her bumbly, stumbly butt. Yay.
This book was...blah. Just...blah. It reads fast, and the only taste that lingers after a few days is the realization of all the junk filler that padded out this puppy into doorstopper size. I mean, when the motions of eating ravioli and looking at the mushrooms on the plate are painstakingly dragged out, as well as the simple motions of putting a CD into a player, it screams for an editor's red pen. It reads like something off a vanity press. But, the Sims are hugely popular and 60% of that game is, what?, making sure you sleep, eat, and shower? Thrilling.
Although for the most part it's forgettable (and the urge to read Book 2 is non-existent), one thing did linger with me. Her dad put snow chains on her truck and she didn't realize it until she got to school??? What is she?? DEAF???? It was dumb crap like that that really made it clear Meyer was writing her own personal fantasy where logic and quality need not intrude. And didn't.(less)
I'd be hard-pressed to call myself a Bronte fan, or even mildly appreciative. Probably my bad opinion of this book is due to the fact that it was part...moreI'd be hard-pressed to call myself a Bronte fan, or even mildly appreciative. Probably my bad opinion of this book is due to the fact that it was part of a high school English course, but I've never had the urge to re-visit the novel, unlike some other high school curriculum fare (Homer, Twain, etc). Very rarely have I wanted "Classic Lit" characters to die in a fire, but Jane still ranks up there.(less)
**spoiler alert** A interesting re-imagining of the lead-up to the Trojan War, almost a complete alternate universe at points. I wish it had been labe...more**spoiler alert** A interesting re-imagining of the lead-up to the Trojan War, almost a complete alternate universe at points. I wish it had been labeled as such rather than "Historical Fiction" because Gemmell deviated from commonly-held "facts" quite often, sometimes seemingly for its own sake (i.e., Paris' & Helen's physical descriptions.) I eventually came to terms with my initial disappointment, but in the end I didn't find it an absorbing read. It had way more potential than it actually delivered.
The main character is the uninteresting Helikaon, sort of a mash-up between Aeneas & Achilles in valor and temperament. He's a driven man of contradictions, vengeful one moment and spouting mission statements of diversity/gender equity workshops the next. Such sentiments were clunky and phrased with too modern a tone.
Andromache here is a beautiful swan who thinks she's an ugly duck, accomplished in seducing women and handing advanced archery weaponry. She speaks her mind to powerful kings and is a walking anachronism. There was little in her characterization that was surprising once I got a sense of the author's sentiment and aims. For all her powers, mental and physical, she wasn't interesting at all and seemed to be more of a fantasy heroine than anything rooted in the ancient world. Her and Helikaon's immediate attraction had no depth, but simply was a device that yarned the gods into it and seemed to make it a matter of destiny that required no discussion or attention. Things happen, people are. Let's move on to the next scene.
Which seemed to be the problem for most of the book. The characters, with the exception of Odysseus (a fail-proof character), and Laodike and Argurios, were flat and dull. They appeared a lot and even said a lot, but I only saw them as names who spoke words and moved. There was no engaging internal activity, no brain- and soul-digging, no spark that made me care about them.
What "insight" there was consisted of the repetitious -- and eventually boring -- device of flashbacks within scenes whenever a character saw or said something that prompted a memory. It didn't even have to be important for Gemmell to slip into another paragraph or 3 of pluperfect. For example, the Mykene mercenary Argurios polishes his armor for a feast, sees the missing discs on it, and recalls the battle where the damage occurred. There is no new information to be gained by this past perfect trot down memory lane. The reader has already been informed often and at great length by a dozen characters what a great and fearless warrior he is. The only reason we're told is that later he's wounded due to the absence of those discs. Quite important detail, and I think it might have been more memorable, but Gemmell's style is to line up the mechanical pieces and plow through them with pedestrian prose. It's like moving chess pieces with a checkers brain.
I'd say 95% of the book has a style that's simplistic like woah. Only a couple passages with Laodike & Queen Halysia prompted me to re-read them because they were so evocative of their inner turmoil (a rare occurrence elsewhere with other characters). Both women weren't the fantastically gifted warrior priestess/princess that Andromache was, and hence seemed more realistic and accessible.
There are several flagged "Aha!" moments of dual identities revealed where we discover that two different characters are actually one and the same, but after the first (Helikaon's assassin/stalker), the second (the Egyptian fugitive) and the third (Trojan prince traitor) seem like a dull repeat of the same ploy and further plot twists could be seen miles in advance.
In the end, there was too much I found impossible to ignore and "just enjoy it" for what it was - alternate history/fantasy marketed as historical fiction. Gemmell seemed too intent on reinventing some characters for newness's sake, going to the extent of having Paris be stoop-shouldered (!), bookish (!!) and balding (!!!), as well has having Helen be thickset, plain and unremarkable. Come on! If an author is going to reinvent the wheel in terms of Paris and Helen, then utilize them sensibly since so much of the action took place in Troy anyway. By dropping these new images for a brief glimpse but no commitment, it came across as a cheap trick.
After all this, why still 2 stars? Well, Gemmell's Odysseus is very in-character with the new twist of The Odyssey being an anthology of his fireside tales, although having so many parts of The Odyssey referred to in this manner got as repetitive as the pluperfect flashbacks. I enjoyed the meshing of Hector's battle exploits with the Hittite-Egyptian Battle of Kadesh, along with the political and martial relationship between Troy and the Hittite empire. (The utter absence of Hector until the very end (where he rides to the sudden rescue in blah fantasy genre style) was disappointing, however.
Overall, I've read far far better novels about the ancient world, and probably don't have "suitable" appreciation for his style because I'm not that into the fantasy genre, but at least I know what to expect and am prepared to be underwhelmed by the next two books. I've already started Shield of Thunder and guessed immediately that "Piria" is actually Kalliope, Andromache's ex-lover, and The Odyssey tale-dropping has shown up again on a few occasions. So the repetition continues..... (less)
The first half of the book is better than the second, as Gemmell does a good job of writing Odysseus while sticking to his canonical attributes. The b...moreThe first half of the book is better than the second, as Gemmell does a good job of writing Odysseus while sticking to his canonical attributes. The book takes a downturn, however, in the second half as Gemmell's stable of characters go from dire circumstances to mandatory last-minutes rescues to sudden deaths, all without much emotional involvement. So much of what makes these people tick is told, not shown, in pluperfect flashbacks, as was the case in the first book, and it was a worn-out device by this middle-child entry. The "hidden identity" ploy was used yet again and the true name of "Piria" was easily guessed within the first few pages. There were few surprises in this book.
Considering how Gemmell has toyed with Homer's characters in their physical features, personalities, etc, I wish he had decided to rename them because some are either unrecognizable or ill-served by stupid cliches like the "war wound" and "healing sex." Maybe Gemmell fancied himself an iconoclast, like taking heroic Hector and turning him into a reluctant, anachronistic warrior beaten down by father & country, but it's too much all in one place. Apart from Odysseus, I liked the references to regional politics and warring tribes and how Troy found itself squared against most of them. Unfortunately, Gemmell's inability to make the characters as interesting as their times brings it down.
At any rate, while it was a fast read, it wasn't all that memorable.(less)
Nothing I write can really do justice to why I love this book so much. I've just finished it for at least...moreIf I could have sex with this book, I would.
Nothing I write can really do justice to why I love this book so much. I've just finished it for at least the 4th time (most likely the 5th), and the series will probably serve as my comfort read whenever I'm in a book slump. They're great and awesome and a guaranteed satisfying read. They've spoiled me for pretty much all other HF out there, no matter the time period. Apart from Patrick O'Brian, no other author has seemed to capture an era so brilliantly with mere words.
The setup is rather simple: Gaius Marius is a very rich man from the Italian provinces with political ambition and military experience. But he lacks one thing: he's not a patrician, and in the very snobbish political circles of Rome, it's not enough to have the citizenship. You have to have the right blood in your veins. Marius sets out to best them at their own game. He marries well in blood (if not in money), he slowly accrues undeniable success in foreign wars, and he never gives up. By the end, he has been elected consul an unprecedented six times (a 7th term looms in the future) and rocked the established order to its foundations. From this point on, the later autocracy of the Roman Empire is inevitable. The immense size of their territory makes the contained ideals of earlier centuries impractical and unpracticable. Marius' willful prominence in a society that prides itself that no one in the Senate stand above his peers opens the door to other men with singular gifts. Cue Julius Caesar....
It might sound heavy and complicated, but it's really not. Learning about the evolution of Rome from republic to empire has never been so much fun. There is red meat drama with backbiting, dysfunction, cutthroat ambition, and soap opera passions. People harangue each other, commit suicide, are brave or cowardly, lead armies into certain slaughter or save them through cunning, and exhibit the ideals of Roman behavior or plumb the depths of immorality. I want to hug them, slap them, strangle them, lick them, and keep them in a special box with a fancy little bow to pull out and play with whenever I want a grand old time.
Why I Re-Read This Book Over And Over: 1) The Style. It's really hard to describe it, but I would liken it to Roman farce. They were a rude and bawdy folk, those Romans, yet also insufferably smug and pious about their lineages and onerous duty to be a shining beacon of light for the rest of the world. McCullough obviously holds these people in great affection for their strengths as well as their weaknesses. It all comes through in a style that is accessible while at the same time being illuminating. The characters seem impossibly unreal and all too human at the same time.
2) Publius Rutilius Rufus' Letters. This is partly related to the Style issue, but these really are a highlight of the book. A patrician with a grudging respect and love for Gaius Marius, he takes it upon himself to keep the perpetually-abroad-on-campaign Marius informed of events in Rome in witty, long letters written from the peanut gallery. He has opinions about everything and everybody, goes off on tangents, and keeps warning Marius that Rome's established order can only be pushed so far so fast. It's through his letters that lots of the "infodumpy" material gets conveyed in a way that's both entertaining and easy to consume. (Wish more authors would learn how to do the infodump so well.)
3) The Scope. The story covers Roman life from the heights of power in the Senate to the stews of the Subura, where Julius Caesar's mother is resident landlady of a tenement building (her dowry). Sometimes it seems there are more layers to the Roman social and political strata than stars, but McCullough follows characters from different backgrounds (from ossified aristocrats to back alley assassins) to paint a canvas of Rome in all its infinite variety.
4) The Arc & Theme. Marius begins as a man trying to distinguish himself by working within the existing system. When that proves nearly impossible because of solid opposition to him from the Old Guard, he upends the system to favor himself and what he believes is the best interest of Rome. At the end of the book, when the tribune of the plebs Saturninus demagogues a popular revolt, Marius sides with his old enemies because mob rule is not in Rome's interest. While he has fought endlessly for years to earn fame and recognition for his own feats, in the end Rome is supreme and must be preserved at all costs. No one man is worth more than Rome, because Rome isn't about people and buildings, material things. It is about ideals and a state of being. Try reconciling that with the need to feed the grumbling belly that is Rome while staving off restless, wandering barbarian tribes 800,000 strong. The theme of the book is ideals vs. pragmatism, and the men who adhered to one school of thought or the other, and the successes or disasters that resulted from those decisions.
5) Lucius ("Call Me Luscious") Cornelius Sulla. Saving the fangirlish for last. There's no other way to say it: Sulla's a sexy bastard.
While not quite fitting the alpha hero mold in the bodice rippers I read (you know, committing murder and all), he is a take-charge guy with that attractive evil/darkness about him. His very red-gold/pale complexion is a stark contrast to the demons that gnaw on him. He has no scruples about anything if he thinks it'll get him closer to his perceived destiny. His ability to do some pretty awful things without getting caught only convinces him that Fortune has got his back. He's acutely aware of his flaws when working close with Marius, but he also sees the Great Man's weaknesses and is determined to succeed where Marius fails since he has the blood and family ties that Marius lacks. The two men work together for the good of Rome, but a submerged rivalry is born that plays itself out bitterly in the next book. As this book ends, Marius's sun is setting while Sulla's is on the rise and eventual success is in the hopeful offing. After all, he learned from a master.
And if the stick-up-the-ass blue bloods in Rome think they had trouble with Marius, just wait until Sulla's in charge. But that's for the next two books. I really shouldn't look forward to another book slump because they really suck and are a downer, but I can't help but hope the next several books piss me off so I can eagerly grab The Grass Crown. Oh, when Sulla wins that crown on the battlefield, bloody and weary and riding a high of triumph and finally realizing his destiny... *fans self*
Ahem. I've gone on and on, but I really haven't scratched the surface of why this book is one of the best novels ever written about the era. Make that ever written. Period. If you have even a remote interest in the time period, you should pick this up and lose yourself in an unbelievable drama over 2100 years old. McCullough does the reader the huge favor of putting a wiki and pronunciation guide in the back of the book, which includes everything from geography to Latin slang, so no need to interrupt your reading to run to the internet. It's all there.
And believe it or not, you'll see that superpower governing hijinks haven't changed much over the millennia. They no longer wear those snazzy togas and orate so marvelously, but the players are still a bunch of preening, self-important, bickering pricks who need to be slapped with the Big Picture every so often. It's truly timeless.(less)
It's rare for a sequel to be greater than the first one, and I would give this book 6 or 7 stars if I could. McCullough continues the story of Marius...moreIt's rare for a sequel to be greater than the first one, and I would give this book 6 or 7 stars if I could. McCullough continues the story of Marius & Sulla, with their long-standing loyalty/rivalry, and adds new characters to the saga. There's Pompey and Cicero, comrades in arms of very different personalities, and young Julius Caesar as a precocious child who Marius perceives as a threat to his own legacy.(less)
Oh that sneaky summer of 1988 when I would pull Bertrice Small off Mom's shelf as soon as the door shut behind her in the morning! Hours of frantic re...moreOh that sneaky summer of 1988 when I would pull Bertrice Small off Mom's shelf as soon as the door shut behind her in the morning! Hours of frantic reading, only to pop it back on the shelf just as she walked through the door. As far as I can recollect, this was the first romance I ever read and it is probably my favorite book of Small's (as well as being the best of the O'Malley saga that followed).
Skye's adventures begin on her wedding night when she meets her soulmate Niall Burke, who exercises droit du seigneur to spare her from her abusive boor of a new husband. OK, so there's no evidence that such a thing ever existed. Who cares? It's instant true love! Niall is one of Small's tragic heroes, whose storyline in the sequel ripped my teenage heart out.
In the grand bodice ripper tradition, Skye gets put through the wringer, but nothing stops her from being the awesome alpha wench she is. She's abducted by pirates and becomes the beloved consort of "The Whoremaster of Algiers" (chalk up Khalid el Bey as another of Small's sympathetic male characters), and when she finally gets home she becomes a thorn in Queen Bess's side, all the while fending off lecherous lords and enduring more heartbreak.
Epic and so lush in detail, you can almost taste the braised lettuce and roasted capon. (Was there ever anything else on a Bertrice Small banquet table? Darned if I can remember if there was!)(less)
This was the first of Bertrice's books where I couldn't finish it, and the trend has continued to the present day. The "English girl whisked off to ex...moreThis was the first of Bertrice's books where I couldn't finish it, and the trend has continued to the present day. The "English girl whisked off to exotic land" device had already been done to death by Ms. Small and the "twist" of this being some elite "love slave school" as compared to Small's usual harem setting had a bland and uninvolving pace. Meh. Didn't like it.(less)
It's been years since I read this, but I remember loving it. Blaze is married off to a far older man for money reasons, as so many heroines often are....moreIt's been years since I read this, but I remember loving it. Blaze is married off to a far older man for money reasons, as so many heroines often are. There was a nice twist to the usual "older husband = evil" set-up found in lots of these older romances. I think his name is Edward, and he's a Really. Nice. Guy. and the Sex. Is. Great. So great, in fact, that Edward's nephew Anthony catches the passion vibes coming off his uncle and starts lusting after his new auntie. When he's not peeping in on his uncle bending auntie over the kitchen table, he's vainly hoping something removes the old man out of the way.
An unfortunate turn of events lands Blaze at Henry VIII's court, and she winds up catching the eye of King Hal. The other details are pretty hazy. I remember that Anne Boleyn is not portrayed in a positive light since she is angling for the crown and sees poor Blaze as a rival.
I regret parting with this book because I'd love to read it again. I've always had an affection for Edward, and he's one of those nice, doomed men that Small put in many of her books (like Geoffrey in Skye O'Malley, Niall in All the Sweet Tomorrows and the Byzantine prince, Basil, in Enchantress Mine.)(less)