The Voyage of Odysseus by Glyn Iliffe

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The War is over.  The Horse came through.  The Skaen Gates have fallen and Priam’s Pride is a smoking ruin.  Time to load up the loot and slaves and head on out for a leisurely cruise back to kith, kin and kingdom ruling.  Ah, but wasn’t there something about a 10 year waiting period before the kith, kin and kingdom stuff?  A tumultuous 10 years and a journey that will test everything in a man; courage, loyalty, faith and friendship.  Odysseus, mastermind of the Greek’s long awaited victory, is no longer a favorite of the gods, try as he may to appease them; no longer the confident King as he is threatened by those he has lead all those years; no longer does his vaunted intellect and cunning prove effective or wise.  This journey back home to Penelope, a wife under siege by those who would replace the rule of Laertes son, Odysseus, is brought to luxuriant life in this, part 5 of The Adventures of Odysseus.  The author brings the reader into the constant drama surrounding Odysseus, Eperitus and the rest of the Ithacans; bringing to life the horrors faced, the circumstances that threaten to unravel everything they hold dear.  I kept thinking, man, how much more can they take?  Well, they’ll have to take more as this book covers the first half of the journey…there’s more to come and that’s, methinks, a good thing.  5 stars

 

Marathon-Freedom or Death by Christian Cameron

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In my review of Killer of Men I stated that I wouldn’t take too long before reading Marathon.  Where does the time go?  Three months?  My only excuse is that I have read some really good books in the interval.  🙂    Now that I’ve finished Marathon, I make the same prediction regarding the next book in the series, Poseidon’s Spear…well, we’ll see how that pans out.  Anyway, Marathon…is just another example of the author’s remarkable storytelling.  I was continually amazed with his knowledge of the era and the way that knowledge was used to not only enhance the story but to also teach the history of that time and place; much of which I already knew but it never hurts to relearn things that have lain dormant for decades.  This is not only played out in the events of the war but also in the everyday lives of the peasants, farmers, craftsmen and aristocrats who make this story come alive.  One example that stands out for me is Arimnestos’ forge and the work of the smiths as they turn bronze sheets into household items as well as armor and weapons.   The lead up to the battle and the battle itself are both told with an incisive vividness that kept me turning the pages until the end.  Well done Mr.Cameron…well done.  5 stars

Killer of Men by Christian Cameron

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I put off too long starting The Long War series by Christian Cameron.  Killer of Men is the first installment of the epic story of East vs West, pitting the Greek city-states against the might of the Persian King of Kings.  That is the backdrop to this thoroughly entertaining tale of one man’s journey from his home in Plataea  becoming a feared warrior, a killer of men.  The author deftly constructs the world of Miltiades of Athens and Darius the Persian; the descriptions of everyday life, the detail in the battle scenes, the scope of heroism and betrayal displayed by well written characters – besides the protagonist, I especially enjoyed the portrayals  of Briseis, a woman who will scheme with the best of them and of the philosopher Heraclitus (a personal aside – one of my favorite philosophical aphorisms comes from Heraclitus, the one about not being able to step into the same river twice).  All of those elements propel Arimnestos from a lowly farm existence to his eventual status as a hero.  As far as the war is concerned, this volume is an excellent stage setter for the next book, Marathon and I will not put off reading that one.  5 stars for Killer of Men.

Spoils of Olympus – By the Sword by Christian Kachel

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Alexander conquered the world but then the God-King died and the tumult resulting from his death is the backdrop to this very entertaining book by Christian Kachel.  The protagonist, Andrikos, is a young man running with the wrong crowd in the town of Llandros.  A night of murderous activity involving the underground criminal element forces Andrikos to leave home and seek out recruitment in the army.  The author gives the reader an excellent look into the somewhat brutal training required of the recruits before they are accepted into the ranks of the Macedonian styled infantry, the phalanx.  Unfortunately for Andrikos he has come onto the stage too late to take part in any conquests as Alexander’s death sets off a furious war among his generals for control of the Macedonian throne.  A serendipitous meeting with an officer who is a member of a secretive spy network instituted by Alexander, results in Andrikos becoming a spy and thus opens up a whole new world for an insecure young man and sets him on a journey of excitement, danger and self discovery.  The author has crafted an interesting story of the various factions and the struggle to maintain the empire Alexander created.  It is full of intrigue, changing alliances, battles of Greek versus Greek and the maturation of a young man who is desperate to find himself.  4 stars

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The Oracles of Troy by Glyn Iliffe

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To quote the eminent philosopher and all around wise man, Homer Simpson, “I like stories.”  I especially like good stories and this series by Glyn Iliffe is magnificent.  The Oracles of Troy is the 4th book in this engaging tale of Odysseus and his fictional captain, Eperitus and the ten year war between the Greeks and the Trojans.  The war is basically a stalemate in this tenth year and the Greeks are losing heart and long for their homeland; a homeland that is becoming increasingly more chaotic without the kings and leaders there to govern.  This is especially true in the kingdom of Ithaca where Odysseus’ wife Penelope is barely keeping a group of ambitious nobles from taking the reins away from the rightful ruling family.  Enter the three oracles, the pieces needed for a Greek victory and the tale of how Odysseus and companions go about to fulfill the three conditions given by the gods.

The author, not only in this book but in the whole series, does for the myths and stories of Odysseus in the same manner that Mary Renault does for Theseus in The King Must Die, etc, though in this case the supernatural intervention of the gods, in particular Athena is much in evidence.  Mr. Iliffe does a masterful job of humanizing the Homeric heroes while allowing the gods to have their place as well.  These mythic, larger than life characters are portrayed with all of their doubts, worries, ambitions and faults.  We have a tale not only of the glory and honor of battle and war but the human failings of betrayal and greed; the human feelings of love and desire.  This is a wonderful telling of a wonderful tale.  5 stars and a hearty Hoover Book Review recommendation.

P.S. I inquired of the author of a possible 5th book to chronicle Odysseus’ journey home…am happy to say that it is in the works.  🙂

Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston

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Once in a while I receive requests to preview an author’s newest work.  In this case the author, Judith Starkston, asked me to read her novel Hand of Fire, a story about the Homeric figure of Briseis.  Well once she told me it was a Trojan War era tale I accepted without hesitation as this period of history has long been a favorite of mine.  Indeed, it was as a youngster reading the exploits of Heinrich Schliemann and his search for Troy that set me upon the path of being an ancient history aficionado.  I have read quite a few historical fictions of the epic struggle , David Gemmell, Glyn Illiffe, Dan Simmons to name a few but this is the first one I have read where the main character is female.   Briseis is probably known to most everyone who has read The Iliad or seen the historically flawed movie, Troy, as the cause of strife between Achilles and Agamemnon.   What the author does in Hand of Fire is to give her a captivating back story , an in depth tale of a young priestess of the goddess Kamrusepa, the Hittite goddess of healing and fertility, coming of age in a time of war and a young woman coming to grips with who the she is.

The author does an excellent job in setting up the eventual meeting of Achilles and Briseis and in the ongoing byplay between them as they slowly come to grips with their emotions and their entwined fates.

 

 

Bio

Judith StarkstonAuthor PhotoI write historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire, as well as the occasional contemporary short story. I also review here on my website, as well as Historical Novels Review, the New York Journal of Books and the Poisoned Fiction Review.

Socrates, the dog

I trained as a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) and taught high school English, Latin and humanities. As part of the research for my novels, I traveled extensively in Turkey. My husband and I have two grown children and live in Phoenix, AZ, along with our golden retriever Socrates.

The Armour of Achilles by Glyn Iliffe

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I must say at the outset that anytime an author can take a well known, pretty much been done every which way tale and imbue it with a knack of rekindling interest in the time worn saga, then said author has done something special.  This is the third volume in this series and we find our mythic heroes in the tenth year of the war with no end in sight.  The main participants, Odysseus, Achilles, Agamemnon, Hector, Helen; well the list goes on…they are brought to life with all of their fears and doubts as well as the twin cornerstones of the conflict, pride and honor. The conflict rages not only on the battlefields but in the hearts and minds of the combatants…so much tension…so many paths and decisions to make.  The author has crafted a wonderful take on The Trojan War, a take with many plots and surprises along the way while at the same time replaying the familiar scenes, such as Achilles and Agamemnon’s feud or the battle between Achilles and Hector in a way that makes them fresh and exciting.

I mark this series as a must read….5 stars

 

The Gates of Troy by Glyn Iliffe

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A little about the author of this masterful series on Odysseus and The Trojan War.

I’d like to say my early years were spent in libraries and book shops, hungry for novels to feed the fires of my youthful imagination.  Instead I spent most of it playing with Action Men in the back garden, knocking a cricket ball around the green in front of my house or exploring the local countryside with my cousins.  I’d always enjoyed writing, though, and dreamed of being an author since primary school.  The dream became an ambition after I read The Lord of the Rings at the age of 12.  I tried my hand at a couple of novels in my teens and early twenties but, after getting nowhere, decided I lacked the experience necessary to write something of worth.  So, with £2,000 and a ticket to Bombay, I set off to explore the world.  India was a shock, but after a couple of weeks of homesickness I began to appreciate the fact I was on an adventure.  Six months and several countries later I returned to England a different man – experienced, confident and broke.

The need for money drove me to a job packing tampons in a factory.  It was quite a low after the highs of trekking the Himalayas and hitch-hiking across North America.  But as luck would have it my neighbour on the production line had recently graduated and persuaded me to get a university education (not that he was a great advert, considering he, too, was packing tampons!)  I’d seen the light, though, and after studying A-level English at night school and adding this to my other lacklustre qualifications managed to secure a place on an English and Classics degree course at Reading University.  Three glorious years followed in which I was sucked into a world of Homer, Hesiod, Euripedes, Ovid, Virgil, Milton, Spencer and a host of others, as well as enjoying all the other benefits life at university can provide.  But when the end came I found myself once more broke – indebted, even – and in another unhappy job (this time working in a call centre).

It was then I decided to return to my youthful ambition to be an author.  The old adage is “write what you know”, so having spent three years studying Greek mythology I decided on a series of books telling the story of Odysseus.  That was 1999, when there weren’t any current novels about the ancient world.  After a long and bumpy journey – see the truth about being an author – I got my lucky break and King of Ithaca hit the bookshelves in 2008.  It’s been a busy time since then, balancing a job, a family with two young (and demanding) daughters, and my love-hate relationship with writing.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

http://www.glyniliffe.com/

My Review

Once again I found myself completely immersed in the lives of the heroes and the machinations of the gods as the story progresses from book 1, King of Ithaca.  It is ten years later and Helen has been taken from Sparta; Odysseus is bound by an oath he suggested and so is obligated to fulfill his promise to Agamemnon.  During those 10 years he has watched Ithaca thrive; has had 10 years of bliss with Penelope; has had a son born; and has no desire to leave.  Eperitus, his friend and champion, on the other hand grows restless as he has an indomitable warrior’s heart and spirit and longs to make an everlasting name for himself on the battlefield.  These are just two of the examples of the turmoil and tension that permeates the pages of this book.

The author’s treatment of Agamemnon and the sacrifice of Iphigenia is masterful and includes some nice plot twists that add to the suspense.  I also enjoyed the ways in which Paris and Hector were portrayed…not the less than flattering Orlando Bloom edition nor the insular thinking Eric Bana version.  Instead we find an accomplished warrior in Paris and a Hector who longs to expand his kingdom at the expense of the Greeks.

This is a most enjoyable take on the events preceding the invasion complete with Olympian interference and prophecies.  My favorite take away from book 2 is that there are books 3 and 4 waiting for me.  I look forward to spending the next ’20 years’ with Odysseus.  4 of 5 stars(well more like 4.5)  🙂

My Q&A with author Glyn Iliffe for the HNS

The Last Hero by Hilary Green

I have always said, to anyone who cared to know, that one of the first books to pique my interest in Ancient Greece was The King Must Die by Mary Renault.  That fact made it easy for me to decide to read The Last Hero by Hilary Green given the comparison to Mary Renault’s work.  The main story line here is about Alkmaion the great grandson of Nestor, famed warrior and counselor to Agamemnon during the siege at Troy and King of Pylos.  Alkmaion is the heir to the throne at a time during a mass migration of peoples in the North that has a ripple like effect throughout western Asia and eastern Europe.  It is also a time when bronze was being replaced with iron.  These two currents have disastrous results for Pylos when the iron wielding Dorians come a calling.

The author has taken this story to the level of Greek tragedy as time and time again Alkmaion is faced with decisions and situations that have ironic repercussions whether they are personal or more widespread.  An example without trying to give away too much, is when Alkmaion almost kills his best friend and former lover when they are both trying to save the same damsel in distress.

The author also uses the religious aspect of that period to great effect.  The Great Goddess and her Mysteries play an important part in the lives of many of the characters.  The devotion and fear of Her followers is a prime example of how well defined and intriguing the characters are.  Invoking feelings of sympathy, sadness and at times great happiness the author has the reader involved in the lives of her creations.  The descriptions of life during that time, the nature of the land, the glimpses of the mighty citadel of Mycenae, etc, add to the enjoyment and beauty of this well crafted tale.  I rate this as 4 stars.