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)
**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)
Even though this trilogy failed to interest from the first book, I kept reading in hopes that it would improve. Sadly, it didn't, and I detected no de...moreEven though this trilogy failed to interest from the first book, I kept reading in hopes that it would improve. Sadly, it didn't, and I detected no decline or difference in quality when Gemmell's writing ended and his wife's began. The characterization continued to be shallow, the plot points far-fetched and for their own sake. I'm specifically thinking of the entire subplot of Gershom, which had nothing to do with the main story and had the feel of being a kitchen sink approach to bring in all the legends of the era. It felt tacked on, if not tacky. What was the point of it? Darned if I know. I finally settled on "pointless and pretentious." Likewise was the final scene of Andromache in the outpost of Ancient Rome. After nearly 3 books of such cheap tricks, it was an expected reveal that held no surprise. The device had, by that point, achieved glib triteness and the well had long since gone dry.
Most every character remained one-dimensional (in rare flashes two), and they were kept to the page. They didn't come into my head to play and act out the story, a situation probably due to the fact that apart from occasional mentions of hair color, build shape, and whether eyes flashed cold or angry, there wasn't much physical description. When there was, it was generic and not very evocative. Psychologically, the majority of the cast were ciphers.
Again, constant deviations into past perfect flashbacks during scenes to reveal pertinent details to make a scene work were irritating and had a slapdash tone that pervaded the book. The entire invasion of Ithaka by pirates and the captivity of Penelope would have been a great sequence both in action and drama, yet it was merely summarized by Penelope's inner voice as she sits tied to her throne. If this had been the only instance, fine, but it wasn't. Too much was revealed as memories, not as present action. There were too few scenes that dragged me right into the action, the only exception I can name being the breaching of King's Joy fortress. However, that scene was destroyed soon after by the risible dispatching of Paris & Helen. (I am not a fan of Paris & Helen in mythology, but their inept and gross handling by Gemmell had me clamoring to be their advocate.)
Odysseus remained a full-bodied and engaging character, the only one to do so throughout all three books. The love between he and Penelope was touched upon in some tender asides, but it was much too little. They were the only couple I became attached to throughout the trilogy, and good as their scenes were, it can't even begin to elevate my opinion of the series as a whole.
Final summary: Generic fantasy elements with the banal standards of the genre. The names are familiar, but they've been manipulated and twisted to suit the imported fantasy tropes to such a degree that they might as well have been named something else and correctly marketed as "Fantasy."(less)
If you're unfamiliar with the various stories surrounding the ancestors and players in The Trojan War, you might find this book a readable aggregator...moreIf you're unfamiliar with the various stories surrounding the ancestors and players in The Trojan War, you might find this book a readable aggregator of the characters and myths. I ended up skimming most of it because I knew the myths and Clarke added nothing new to the story. It seems the antithesis of Gemmell, who completely rewrote the War and well-known characters in a way that almost parodied itself. Clarke is very conservative and, IMO, unimaginative. Hoping to find something in the happy middle one of these days.(less)
A good adventure tale for kids. The author cobbled together various myths and details about the Trojan War to make one story, including stuff I'd neve...moreA good adventure tale for kids. The author cobbled together various myths and details about the Trojan War to make one story, including stuff I'd never known before (Helen and Menelaus had a son?!!?). All in all, a fun and fast read, although there are distinct goodies and baddies here. Since I'm of the "Trojans rule, Greeks drool" School of Thought, the nasty ebil Trojans had me rolling my eyes and wishing that Paris WOULD kill Helen's wide-eyed little munchkin.
Or maybe this Orlando-Bloom-as-Paris fangirl (don't hit!) hated seeing her woobie maligned. Hey, we all have our dirty secrets.(less)
I don't remember which translation I had to read in my Ancient Greek class, probably Lattimore. We also translated huge stretches of it ourselves. The...moreI don't remember which translation I had to read in my Ancient Greek class, probably Lattimore. We also translated huge stretches of it ourselves. The original Greek has a beauty of its own, if you're able to read even a few passages. Truly one of the best pieces of literature every written. There's action-packed gore, tender family scenes, and achingly beautiful examinations of civilizations at war. Hector/Andromache OTP!(less)
3.5 stars - A more suitable title for this would be "Virtue Is Its Own Reward; or, Wisdom: Don't Be A Dummy."
The author, French-Guy-Who-Uses-Only-A-Su...more3.5 stars - A more suitable title for this would be "Virtue Is Its Own Reward; or, Wisdom: Don't Be A Dummy."
The author, French-Guy-Who-Uses-Only-A-Surname, takes Achilles' son Neoptolemus and recounts his travels after the Trojan War. Among other things, he's captured by a pirate, separated from his best buddy Phoenix, shows up at Menelaus' court to marry Princess Hermione and, lastly, gets involved in a snit fit pitched by the goddess Diana because she's not getting the respect she's entitled to.
But the whole point of the tale is to use a familiar classical story to teach a lesson about virtue, restraint, wisdom, reason, and justice. Neoptolemus, when held captive by the pirate, refuses to escape with another slave because he had given his word to the pirate that he would not leave. When he travels to Babylon and is faced with the bored decadence of Nebuchadnezzar I, he is approached by a hot chick who is the embodiment of Pleasure, but he turns her away in favor of the white-clad and heavenly chick called Virtue. He was so insufferably upright that I wanted to slap him. This is the guy who supposedly murdered both Hector's son and father. I'd rather that guy had shown up more than Mr. Self-Denial and Rectitude.
There was also a side-trip in Neoptolemus' travels that instructed the reader on the tendency of fervent religious worship to lead to persecution and massacre. Until then, I thought the book was a Christian moral guidebook in classical costume, but the more I read, it seemed more like it was inspired by Enlightenment ideals rather than the Bible.
I was hoping it would be more epic-y and adventurous with a dollop of tragedy, maybe bring the enslaved Andromache into the story, but instead it was a guidebook on behavior. Not bad by any means, and very interesting to read since classical characters were involved, but I kinda wished it had had more dramatic meat to it. Guess I'll have to read Euripides for that.(less)
The story of Electra and the unhappy House of Atreus is one of my favorites in all of Greek drama, and I wasn't sure if it could be portrayed so vivid...moreThe story of Electra and the unhappy House of Atreus is one of my favorites in all of Greek drama, and I wasn't sure if it could be portrayed so vividly outside of Richard Strauss' opera and the original Greek plays. But Treece took the standard storytelling technique of an old woman recounting her life to a passive listener (here, a doctor) and packed 280 pages full of highly emotional and descriptive stuff.
It's been awhile since I've read Sophocles and Euripides, so I'm not sure where Treece might have deviated from "fact," but that matters little anyway. The Trojan War and all of its players have been the subject of fanfiction for millenia, and I like seeing what authors come up with and if they can make it work. Treece's novel works from beginning to end, something I can't say for some more recent authors' attempts. Despite its rather brief length, the story was surprisingly in-depth, and I felt like I was in Bronze Age Greece in all of its glorious, war-mongering decline.
Highlights: * Electra's changing attitude towards her father Agamemnon, from lustful worship to undying hatred (Iphigenia's sacrifice) to sincere grief at the broken man he's become after ten years of war.
* The issue of gods, if they are man-made, the nature of worship, the fear that belief (or disbelief) inspires in people during both good times and bad.
* Electra's relationship with Hermione. Talk about kissing cousins...
* The characterization of Aegisthus. He was strong and weak and a figure of fear and of fun. And it all worked.
* Ditto the characterization of Clytemnestra. She is not a monster, but a very unhappy and unlucky woman who isn't afraid to take drastic measures.
* The final scene with the doctor and his slave, after Electra has told her tale. We get a little speech about the effect of bards on something called The Truth, and it wraps up the book oh so nicely.
This has been one of the most difficult reviews to write in a long time. It's been awhile since I've read a book that had stuff I really liked and st...moreThis has been one of the most difficult reviews to write in a long time. It's been awhile since I've read a book that had stuff I really liked and stuff that left me feeling really "meh."
There's no real need to give a summary of the plot because it's basically: "Achilles and Patroclus meet, gradually fall in teenaged love, and the events of the Iliad that we all know about happen."
Which is one of the reasons why, when I finished Miller's book, I was left with a feeling of "Eh." The story is not new. In fact, I thought too much of it was a scholar's recap of the side-myths and tales that we all know about. I am not a fan of David Gemmell's historical fantasy trilogy about the Trojan War because I thought there were too many arbitrary, pointless and stupid inventions (a balding and bookish Paris, his frumpy-dumpy wife Helen, and working MOSES into it, for instance), but Miller seemed to go on the other side of the spectrum and deviate barely at all from the myth. In fact, there are quite a few dialogue dumps recalling the famous myths (such as Tantalus and the House of Atreus) that I thought brought the narrative to a dragging pace. I'm sure she loves all these stories (as do I), but she tried to work them all in, and some of the ways simply didn't flow well.
So, with that authorial decision, I was left with Miller's prose and characterization of these well-known figures to carry the book. I thought it was a mixed bag of success and failure.
Her prose is so clean and spare that it was startling and impressed me with its haste to get to the meaning and punch of a sentence. Even though my general reading material tends to the purply and over-written (according to some tastes), I've enjoyed many different styles.
So I appreciated and liked Miller's way with words. However, there were times when I got bored with the mundane aspects, such as the recurring "Hello," "All right," and other...well, mediocre dialogue. It didn't have to be epic and high-flying declarations of fancy wordsmithery, but it did seem rather pedestrian, given the supernatural attributes of the characters and original source material. At some points, I was expecting a conversation between Achilles and Patroclus to unfold like this:
"I'm bored." "Me too." "So what do you want to do?" "Dunno."
Speaking of the two golden boys and their relationship and interaction, I felt rather disappointed in the lack of intensity between them. I didn't feel like Patroclus was that compelling a character for Achilles to attach such emotions to him. And since Patroclus was the sole narrator, his voice cast a pall over the entire story. In short, I thought he was quite the insipid and callow youth, as a child AND as a man pushing 30.
I'm probably inviting a stoning by saying this, but I thought the way Achilles and Patroclus were written in Wolfgang Petersen's movie Troy was more interesting. There was actual passion in movie!Patroclus (even if he was a pouty surfer dude) that I felt was absent in Miller's portrait. It's been awhile since I've read Iliad, but I recall Patroclus being more dynamic in that as well.
Miller's Patroclus was the kind of same-sex romantic relationship half that I've seen over and over in slash fanfiction: the sensitive, weepy one. The one who gets hurt and is comforted by the stronger half. The one who always is the one knocked up in the mpregs. So I was disappointed that Patroclus was the kind of character I've seen scores and scores of times in schmoopy, vanilla slash.
Since Achilles is portrayed as SO dominant and god-gifted, it made Patroclus seem even more weak and feminized. While Achilles embraces the traditional male role of killer and protector, Patroclus' role is confined to healing, nurturing and hanging out with the female captives and doing the wifely duties.
He is quite the adoring little woman, and his descriptions of Achilles' beauty over and over and total self-identification with his lover (and desire to die if Achilles does) is the kind of stuff that eye-rolling is made of.
On a totally positive note, I really loved the characterization of Odysseus, but after reading numerous novels and fanfiction for both Homer and the movie Troy, I've come to the conclusion that the character is really idiot-proof. There's something about him that lends itself so easily to writing him.
As I wrote this review, I gradually solidified my formless notions about what I liked and hated about it. Rather than being conflicted about rating it, it's a solid 3 stars. It read fast, and I found much to like about it, but it's nothing that will stick with me or compel me to re-read at a later date. As a straightforward recounting of Achilles' youth and all the events before and during the Trojan War, and all the histories of its main players, it was a solid effort and a good first novel. I only wish that Miller had devoted half as much time to creating unique plots and deeper characterizations as she did to crafting her short sentences.(less)
Probably my most favorite Greek play. It floored me when I first read it. The opera Medea by Cherubini is the next best thing to the original material...moreProbably my most favorite Greek play. It floored me when I first read it. The opera Medea by Cherubini is the next best thing to the original material.(less)