I just finished reading a fabulous anthology of stories of the Trojan War. With seven chapters by seven different authors, A Song of War skillfully weaves multiple perspectives into a vivid portrayal of the decade-long war and its many heroes. Sometimes the point of view is Achaean, sometimes Trojan, but it always engages the reader’s empathy for that character. I could barely put this book down. I fell seriously behind on my housework because I kept reading instead of vacuuming, but it was worth it. I think we can all agree that reading is much more fulfilling than cleaning.
One of my favourite aspects of A Song of War is the way the authors have infused a well-known tale with lots of excellent little twists, giving each character or tale a fresh spark. Kate Quinn’s Hellenus and Stephanie Thornton’s Cassandra, are biracial, twins of King Priam of Troy and a Nubian concubine. Hellenus isn’t the most well-known figure from the Trojan War, but he should be, especially because he’s one of the few Trojans who gets a somewhat happy ending. I love the way Cassandra, of the doomed prophecies, has a correspondingly dark interest in death, and knows things like how to preserve an eyeball in honey. And even though she’s often seen by her fellow Trojans as crazy, she has the affection and support of her twin, Hellenus, and some of her other brothers. It’s nice not to see her completely shunned by everyone, as is sometimes the case in other adaptations of the Trojan War. In fact, Hellenus and Cassandra are both a little bit distant from the rest of the family, being illegitimate offspring of Priam, but are loyal to each other.
Libbie Hawker’s Penthesilea, the Amazon warrior, seeks not only glory but absolution in her duel against Achilles. Another of Hawker’s characters, Philoctetes, nurses a secret love for Achilles, whose dark, troubled portrayal throughout various viewpoints within the novel wrenches your heart even when you sometimes want to slap him. Agamemnon, usually portrayed rather villainously, becomes far more nuanced under Russell Whitfield’s hand, scarred by his sacrifices for the war, and I soon found myself pitying him. Odysseus is just as clever as one would wish, but Vicky Alvear Shecter also gives him a delightful sharp impatience as he has to form his schemes around some of his more bumbling compatriots. Odysseus also has the most (welcome) appearances in the book. Christian Cameron’s Briseis, instead of merely being Achilles’ concubine, is a woman strong and skilled enough to leave her own mark on the battlefield, and to seize her own future. The novel closes from Aeneas’ point of view, written by SJA Turney. Aeneas is the perfect character to end the story. Through the point of view of other characters, he can seem like a bit of a snob at times, often referring to his divine heritage, but when he gets his own feature, he’s brave and loyal, and while you might not necessarily want to sit beside him at a hypothetical banquet, he is the kind of person you’d want fighting at your side.
This is such an intricate novel that I haven’t done all the characters justice. My ‘Book Addiction‘ posts are meant to share books that I recently read and immensely enjoyed, and that I hope others will discover, too. Definitely check this book out if you are looking for a book with: troubled heroes, noble heroes, good fight scenes, and of course, good death scenes. Oh, the authors’ notes are fun, too.
From the jacket description:
Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy’s gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings . . . and these are their stories.
A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement.
A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster.
A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on.
A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel.
A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead.
A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all.
A goddess’ son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood.
Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age?