Friday Flashback is hosted by Jen over at The Introverted Reader.
Originally Reviewed: September 23, 2009
This is the kind of historical fiction that I love to read. I've always had a passing interest in mythology, but sometimes it can be so dry! "So & So, son of Such & Such, did A, B, C, & D, had son Whatchamacallit with Whatshername who was the daughter of Whosthatguyagain?..." That's one of the reasons I've put off reading the Bible. Too many begats.
But McCullough manages to work all of the necessary begats in, while at the same time still moving the story along, and further making you CARE. She brings these characters to life in a way that mere Mortals could only dream of. History and myth gives them names, but McCullough gives them LIFE. Personality, aspirations, hopes and dreams, conniving brilliance, worshipful adoration, undying loyalty, etc. These are the things that McC gives us and inspires our adoration of her.
First, let me say that I wish I'd have taken notes when reading this book. Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and it's not always easy to keep track of who is who in the beginning, or which side they are on. (I said I have a passing interest in Mythology - I'm not a scholar with Heroes' names, important dates and country of births memorized!) This is the one thing that dropped this down to 4 stars for me. Granted, once I got to the midway point, I was just along for the ride and following everything without a problem, but getting there would have been easier if perhaps the chapter headings had say "Priam of Troy" instead of just "Priam" for the narrator.
That being said, even once I was up on the who's who and which side is which, McC made it VERY difficult to pick a side to root for! She portrayed everything so realistically that there is no "right" side to an impartial judge; rather "right" is dependent on which King you serve and which version of the story you get from them. Much like wars today *cough*, the Greeks' war against Troy was less for the proclaimed scapegoat reason and more for profit and political gain (read: land and money). Come to think of it, we're quickly coming up on 10 years too... But I digress.
I was surprised by the humor and modernity in this book. Odysseus especially was fairly snarky and at times I felt like he would just step out of the pages and start pulling strings everywhere. I got a few chuckles out of him. I liked that while the feel of the book was true to the traditional story, it did feel updated and accessible to everyone- not just mythology buffs.
I also appreciated that the magic and the miracles were left open to interpretation. There is always a plausible scientific, or at least non-magical, explanation for miraculous events. That's a fine line to walk, actually, to say "Here's a possibility" but not try to sell it or convince us. I appreciate McC for being able to do that well, and for doing it at all. Too often authors want to spread their opinions like little seeds, hoping that they will take root in someone else. It's a rare thing for an author to write a book without a stance.
I also enjoyed the fact that there was homosexuality and bisexuality in the book, but that it wasn't done in such a way as to be a slur or a joke. It was simply presented as an everyday occurrence and accepted. Too bad that's relegated to history, we could use a little of that mindset now.
Speaking of which, my four favorite characters in the book were portrayed as bisexual and gay: Diomedes, Odysseus, and Achilles (bi) and Patrokles (gay). I loved how these men were able to be Men (RAWR!) on the battlefield but then off the field share a part of themselves with another man that men of today wouldn't dream of. Get your mind out of the gutters! I mean their feelings, not their tools. Really though, knowing that these men were gay did not make me feel any differently about them as warriors - and I love warriors. If anything, it made me respect them more for their duality. They were able to truly love and be loved by men, yet go out and kill hordes of them daily. Crazy.
I notice that my favorite characters are all Greek, which is interesting because I am still very undecided as to which ideological side I wanted to win the war. I mean, obviously I knew which side would win, but there is a part of me that just loves the underdog and will always root for the losing side. But neither side was faultless, and both sides were harmed by the other prior to war, so who is right? Conundrum.
Anyway... I really enjoyed the book... It certainly is fuel for thought and shows that mythology is just as relevant today as it was 4,000 years ago. Give or take a century.