Archive for ‘2010s’

February 26, 2017

Ancient Greece and Rome in Tokyo, 2016

While I didn’t do any Trojan War reading in 2016 (a fact both unfortunate and baffling), I did do my best to enjoy the ancient art and artifacts that made their way through Tokyo, where I am currently living. Look below the jump for my photos of and comments about an ancient Greece exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, a Pompeii wall painting exhibit at the Mori Arts Center Gallery, and a one-woman performance of Greek tragedy at the Akasaka CHANCE Theatre!

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October 5, 2014

Crash Course World History: “The End of Civilization (In the Bronze Age)”

A few months ago, I posted about Crash Course Literature’s take on the Odyssey. As the Sea Peoples are my favourite awesomely named group of long ago people who maybe did or maybe didn’t exist, I was pretty excited when I saw the thumbnail for this week’s installment of the second Crash Course World History series. The Trojan War only gets a couple shout-outs in the video, which makes me feel like I’m cheating posting about it, but it might be useful to some as a quick introduction to what happened in the time after the war is thought to have taken place. This video also features two mentions of Canada (a rare thing in Crash Course!) and an appearance by a Kingdom Hearts keyblade (KH being one of about three video games I’ve finished) so, you know. I obviously had to link to it.

September 15, 2014

Margalit Fox: “The Riddle of the Labyrinth”

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

Non-fiction
Full Title: The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
Pages: 346
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: In 1900, while excavating on Crete, the charismatic Victorian archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed inscribed clay tablets amid the ruins of a lavish Bronze Age palace. Written by palace scribes circa 1450 B.C., the script they displayed – featuring outline drawings of swords, chariots, and horses’ heads, as well as other tiny pictograms – resembled no alphabet ever seen. Evans named the script Linear B, and from the start it posed a deep mystery. No one knew what language Linear B recorded, much less what the curious inscriptions meant. If the tablets could be deciphered, they would open a portal onto a refined, wealthy, and literate society that had flourished in Greek lands three thousand years earlier, a full millennium before the glories of the Classical Age.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing riddles in history – Linear B – and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. […] Following the three investigators as they hunt down, analyze, and interpret a series of linguistic clues hidden within the script itself, The Riddle of the Labyrinth offers the first complete account of one of the most fascinating conundrums of all time.

Review: So you may have guessed that this book is not very much about the story of the Trojan War! But it’s about a Bronze Age script and it mentions the war enough that I feel justified posting about it, although in a rather shorter post than usual.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth tells the story of the decipherment of Linear B by following its three major players: archaeologist Arthur Evans, professor Alice Kober, and architect Michael Ventris. According to its introduction, this book is “the first complete account of the decipherment,” filling in what was previously unknown about Alice Kober’s years of work on the script. All three sections of the book are interesting, but I especially enjoyed reading about Kober and how dedicated she was to the decipherment at a time when it surely couldn’t have been easy to be a female scholar. I really appreciated how Fox handles this section, especially the way in which she only briefly mentions Kober’s apparent lack of interest in traditionally “feminine” goals, doesn’t disparage her for it, and then never brings it up again. Awesome!!

Before reading this book, I glanced at a couple reviews that suggested that a background in Linguistics would help readers to understand the discussions of the decipherment. I happen to have such a background, but I think what was more helpful was my familiarity with Japanese, a language that uses syllabic writing systems similar to the syllabic writing system Linear B turned out to be (spoiler?). But this book is definitely written for the general reader, and Fox includes enough explanation that I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. I suspect that anyone who’s interested in reading this book will have little problem understanding it.

As a big fan of Bronze Age Greece and an even bigger fan of languages, I super enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about how one goes about deciphering an ancient script and it was fascinating to read about the kind of perseverance the process requires. I even nerdily enjoyed reading the correspondence between scholars discussing their theories about Linear B. If any of the above appeals to you, I suspect Riddle of the Labyrinth will be as unputdownable for you as it was for me.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

August 2, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “Troilus and Cressida” (DVD & screencaps)

Ninagawa x Shakespeare X

In August 2012, I was fortunate enough to be able to see Yukio Ninagawa’s all-male production of William Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” in Saitama, Japan. The post I wrote afterwards, which contains more information as well as my thoughts about the production, has baffled me by becoming one of the most popular posts on this blog. I was going to post about it again anyway, but now I feel slightly more justified in doing so!

The DVD: Ninagawa’s “Troilus and Cressida” was released on region-free DVD in 2013 as part of the box set Ninagawa x Shakespeare X (“X” because this is the tenth in the series). The set comes with three DVDs: one for “Troilus and Cressida” (172 minutes), one for a production of “Cymbeline” (188 minutes), and one with bonus features, most notably twenty-one minutes of footage from behind the scenes of “Troilus.” None of these DVDs include subtitles of any kind, although Shakespeare’s text can be used to figure out what’s happening in “Troilus”; I don’t think there are any changes large enough that they would throw someone off. (I haven’t watched “Cymbeline” yet, but I’m looking forward to it!)

Watch: Troilus, Cressida, Pandarus and Diomedes in clips from V.ii and V.iv (please note that the footage on the DVD is higher quality and better edited), the cast at a press conference

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, CDJapan

Screencaps: So I originally meant to only screencap the things I wanted to show you when I wrote my previous post, but of course I went a little overboard. Read on for thirty-nine screencaps (and four photos)!

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July 24, 2014

Eric Shanower: “Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two”

Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two

Graphic Novel
Pages: 175
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Winner of five Eisner Awards, including Best Writer/Artist in both 2001 and 2003, and the Gran Guinigi for Best Serial Comic 2006, Eric Shanower presents part two of Betrayal, the third of seven volumes telling the complete story of the Trojan War.

Ships hit the beach. Battle cries ring out. Warriors leap ashore to meet the chariots of the mighty Trojan army. Achilles and his cousin Ajax clash with the Trojan prince Hektor and his ally, King Sarpedon of Lykia. Dust rises as men fall dead, all for the sake of one woman, Helen, who watches the Trojan War from high on the walls of Troy, safe for the present.

Within the walls, conniving Pandarus hopes to avoid paying for his brother’s betrayal of the Trojans. But how? Perhaps Pandarus can gain royal protection by persuading his niece Cressida to accept the love of the Trojan prince Troilus. But she’s reluctant.

The war waits for no one. Its bloody claws close tight around both Troilus and Cressida, forcing each of them to face choices neither would have imagined before the Trojan War began. Troilus’s understanding of existence cracks open, while Cressida must choose whose bed she’ll share.

Drawn from the myths and legends of centuries, Betrayal continues the tapestry of drama and action known as the Trojan War. Eric Shanower’s historically accurate illustrations and taut storytelling propel this greatest of ancient epics into the twenty-first century.

Note: I am reviewing this book because the artist sent me a free copy.

Review: I really enjoyed Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One, two of the previous volumes in the Age of Bronze series, so I was looking forward to reading Betrayal, Part Two. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lives up to the level of its predecessors.

The most prominent storyline in this volume is that of Troilus and Cressida. A lot of space is devoted to it and it progresses much farther than I would have expected. I feel a little odd criticizing this without having any idea how the story is going to unfold in later volumes, but I would have preferred to spend less time with them. This is the book where the Trojan War really starts, but so little time is spent on the war that it loses a lot of its impact. I might not have minded this so much except that the time that might have been spent on the war is instead spent on two characters I don’t really care about. Troilus has very little personality besides his constant pining and Cressida, although the more interesting of the two, has a literal change of heart that completely changes her motivations within the space of a few pages. This made it difficult for me to empathize with either of them. I will admit, though, that I was really glad that Cressida’s motivations were made clear and I was glad that she has an actual reaction to the Greek kings when she arrives in the camp; Shakespeare leaves both of those areas pretty vague, and with appropriate embarrassment I must admit that, apart from Age of Bronze, Shakespeare’s is the only version of the Troilus and Cressida story that I’ve read so far.

I have one more criticism of the Troilus and Cressida storyline that might not be valid, but that bothered me enough that I have to mention it. The back flap of this book tells us that Age of Bronze is Shanower’s attempt to tell the story of the Trojan War “in authentic historical detail.” Yet there’s a scene that’s a recreation of the part in Shakespeare where Troilus, Cressida and Pandarus talk about how future generations will remember their names. Of course, telling the story of the Trojan War as it authentically, historically happened is basically impossible, and perhaps the “authentic historical detail” is only meant to refer to the visuals. But it seems odd to me to make a claim like that and then lift a scene from a relatively recent playwright who is not exactly known for his historical accuracy. I would be ready to just shrug this off except that the scene ends with Pandarus’s line: “All those who selflessly exhaust themselves by going between should be called Pandars.” As far as I can tell, this is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of line that only works if your audience is made up of speakers of modern English, and so perhaps not something that a historical Pandarus might have actually said. This is absolutely a nitpick but, to be fair, I did predict that as I continued to review Age of Bronze I would start nitpicking …

Now for what I liked!

I really have to praise the character designs in Age of Bronze. There’s a ton of characters but somehow they manage to be pretty distinct. I read this volume a couple months after I read the previous volume, but even so, the number of characters I recognized right away far outnumbered those I didn’t. I also continue to be impressed with the transitions between scenes; my favourite in this volume smoothly takes us from nighttime in Troy to morning in the Greek camp. It’s followed by several pages where the panels on the left are scenes on the battlefield and the panels on the right are other scenes. I really love how this alternating pattern not only shows the passing of time but also moves the various storylines forward really efficiently.

Unrelated to the story, this cover is my favourite of the volumes so far, and I also really like how two pages at the back of the book are dedicated to encouraging readers to help preserve the archaeological sites.

Even though I didn’t love Betrayal, Part Two, I didn’t dislike it, and I have no reason to doubt that future volumes will return to the high standard set by Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One. If you’re interested in reading a graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War (and don’t mind a bit of a wait till future issues), I definitely recommend Age of Bronze.

Official Web Site: Age of Bronze
Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

June 8, 2014

Josephine Angelini: “Goddess”

Goddess  Goddess

YA Novel
Pages: 421
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Can you change your fate?

The gods’ thirst for war already has a body count – and Helen is plagued with visions of destruction. She must find a way to imprison them once again, or risk unleashing immeasurable chaos.

Her powers are increasing – and so is the distance between Helen and her mortal friends. Uncertain whether to fear or revere her, the once-solid group divides.

To make matters worse, the Oracle reveals that a dangerous Tyrant is lurking among them … and all fingers point to Orion. Still unsure whether she loves him or Lucas, Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision, for an all-out war is coming to her shores.

Starcrossed and Dreamless are international bestsellers. Now Josephine Angelini delivers a thrilling conclusion to this epic trilogy of love, hate, revenge, and fate. With worlds built just as quickly as they crumble, a goddess must rise above it all in a final battle to change a destiny written in the stars.

Spoiler-Free Review: Goddess is the third novel in the Starcrossed trilogy, which I’ve been reviewing here because it kind of sort of uses the story of the Trojan War as a base from which to launch its own story. When I read Starcrossed, the first book, I was baffled by its popularity but kind of amused by all its blatant similarities to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I thought the second book, Dreamless, was more original and more interesting, but I was frustrated by Lucas’s violent treatment of Helen as well as by the fact that most of the story only happens because of a lie that the readers know is a lie. Reading Goddess, I think I passed through bafflement and frustration and reached a point where this series genuinely makes me angry. Because … it’s terrible.

As usual, I must confess that there were a few things I liked, and here they are: Matt’s first few scenes. Morpehus’s two appearances. Some of the more fantastical settings that ensure that, if the rumoured movies do get made, they should at least be nice to look at. And … that’s about it.

This book reads like a hastily written first draft. Every action and every line of dialogue is overexplained; like both books before it, cutting out all the unnecessary exposition would make the book at least a hundred pages shorter. Plot threads are left half-finished. The main characters are unlikeable. There are too many characters who contribute nothing to the plot. Important scenes focus on characters the readers barely know and don’t care about. None of the main characters ever face any real risk or consequence. The original mythology is simultaneously vague and overcomplicated. The Greek mythology is changed so much that I’m not sure why it was used. The tone and register are all over the place. Characters frequently do things they were adamantly opposed to doing no more than a chapter before, with no reason given as to why they changed their mind. Characters develop powers out of the blue and then never use them. The narration awkwardly jumps from the mind of one character to the mind of another for no good reason. And – my least favourite point of all – an abusive relationship is portrayed as the truest of true loves.

There are some good ideas buried below all the first draftiness of this book, and a ruthless edit and rewrite could have improved it immensely. I have no idea why this series didn’t receive that treatment – surely this book had an editor, right? what did she even do? fix typos?? – but the fact seems to be that it didn’t. As it is, then, I don’t recommend Goddess or either of its predecessors at all.

SPOILERIFFIC!! Review: Let’s explore some of my above criticisms through examples from the text.

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March 2, 2014

Crash Course Literature: The “Odyssey”

John Green, host of Crash Course World History, one of my favourite YouTube series ever, has begun his second Crash Course Literature series with a twelve-minute look at Homer’s Odyssey. As an installment in a fairly accessible and popular YouTube channel I do kind of wish this video was a bit more “Here are some reasons the Odyssey is considered a great work of literature and here’s why you should read it too!” and a bit less “Here are some reasons Odysseus is a jerk!,” but at the same time the open letter to the patriarchy that begins at 6:55 is so beautiful that it reduces all my criticisms to nothing.

John Green takes on another classic in the Crash Course video for “Oedipus Rex.”

October 6, 2013

Jennifer South: “Andromache: Stealing Tomorrow”

Andromache: Stealing Tomorrow

“I think you are as brave as any man that I fight next to on the battlefield. Every thread of courage snaps at some point though. For every one of us. There is no shame in running. Only in not stopping and turning to face your fear when you know it’s time.”

Novel
Full Title: Andromache: Stealing Tomorrow: A Novel of the Trojan Empire
Pages: 572
First Published: 2012

Synopsis: She was born into her world a non-entity. It was the late Bronze Age, the time of the Trojan Empire, a time ruled by warlords and warriors. The daughter of a minor king was a throw away item, a bargaining chip at best. In her world, a woman only held as much power as the beauty of her face or her worth on the marriage market and Andromache had neither. She seemed destined to be forgotten.

It was also the final Age of Heroes though and in it a man, or woman, of determination and steel could make their own destiny – if they were brave enough. In the end, Andromache would have to choose. Would she let the world decide who she was? Or would she make a path of her own and become the woman of legend she was meant to be?

“When you marry,” Bithia supplied. “Your husband will take you to live with his family. They will look for weapons to use against you, for ways to control you and through you, your husband. Every thing you say will be measured and weighed and given sharp edges so that it can be turned back on you. You must learn to measure what you say, half the response you would give and then cover the true meaning with rose oil so that it cannot be found.”

Review: So I have been reading about the characters of the Trojan War for over a decade now without attempting to keep any sort of academic distance from them, and as a result I absolutely bring a certain amount of emotional investment to any new Trojan War-related book that I read. I’m sure this affects every review I’ve posted or will post on this blog, but in the case of Stealing Tomorrow I feel like it’s playing an even bigger role than usual. Because … there really isn’t that much to this book. There really isn’t 572 pages worth of conflict here. A large section of this novel consists of little more than Hector and Andromache angsting at each other. And yet, as someone who has been in love with these characters since middle school, I found reading about Hector and Andromache angsting at each other to be the perfect way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

Unfortunately, the lack of conflict isn’t the only criticism I have to mention before I can start fangirling; the writing style is another major problem. South does a great job of creating a strong sense of character and I really enjoyed some of the imagery she uses. Other than that, this book reads like the Starcrossed series: awkward phrasing, telling instead of showing, overexplaining every line of dialogue. It’s also desperately in need of a basic proofreading, because I have never before seen so many typos and run-on sentences in a finished book. Sometimes the typos were bad enough that I found myself rereading sentences in an attempt to figure out what they were supposed to say. I also noticed two scenes where a character who was there at the beginning was not there at the end, with no reason or explanation given. And I got tired of Hector being described with the same words every time we saw him; forty-four uses of the phrase “dark eyes” is at least thirty-four uses too many.

But there were indeed things I liked:

· Female friendships are not something you see often in Trojan War novels, so I really enjoyed the strong female friendships Andromache has in this book, both with characters who are already familiar as well as with an original character, Bithia. I actually like Bithia enough that I felt a little sad when I remembered she won’t be in any books I read in the future.

· There’s not much about the Trojan War that I find boring, but my goodness do I find it difficult to feign interest in the Palladium. So I am pretty happy to report that South’s Palladium is splendidly creepy. Can all future Trojan War authors follow her lead and work with this thing to make it a little more interesting, thanks I would love that.

· Also awesomely creepy were Andromache’s lessons with her mother. I loved how we get more details about them as the book goes on, but they’re never explained completely – a great use of the way what we don’t see is often scarier than what we do see. Actually, I really liked getting to know Andromache’s family, as this was my first time reading a book where they were more than an entry in the list of people Achilles kills offscreen. I never even considered the idea that Andromache might come from a dysfunctional family but I think it really works here. Her struggles to realize and then overcome this part of her past were both realistic and compelling.

· I enjoyed the brief appearances of Achilles’ family, though that’s mainly because I am fascinated by the way Andromache’s life so often intertwines with theirs. It was great to see new additions to this tragic and complicated relationship.

· I kind of hate to admit it, but it turns out I love a good romantic scene, and a little angst doesn’t hurt either. I loved seeing a Hector who is deeply affected by the pressure that’s been on him all his life and is determined to act in his own interests for once. Embarrassing truth be told, I’m pretty sure I could have read a hundred more pages of Hector and Andromache talking about their feelings. I even kind of loved the scene where all they were doing was playing a board game. If you don’t come to this book already in love with these characters I have no idea if any of this will be appealing or not, but I once got actually upset when I saw a Hector/Helen fanfic because HOW DARE YOU WHAT ABOUT ANDROMACHE, so in this respect at least I guess I am this book’s perfect audience. (Hector/Andromache OTP!)

· This book starts with Hector and Andromache’s first meeting and ends shortly after their wedding. There’s enough foreshadowing (see Hector’s lines at the top of this entry for a heartwrenching example) that I was surprised that the book ends before the war even starts. I have no idea if South has plans for a sequel or not, but I am secretly hoping she does because the events in this book would lead easily to new and potentially quite interesting reasons for the war, and I would love to see how this version of Andromache makes it through. Stealing Tomorrow’s writing style and lack of conflict are big enough issues that I find it difficult to recommend, but what I can tell you is that I also found it absurdly difficult to put down and I would buy a sequel in a second.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

Herbs were no longer the herbs I had thought they were and words were no longer the words I had been familiar with when I was in my mother’s dark rooms. It frightened me. For there was power in my mother’s lessons and they woke something in my blood that was hungry, always, for more.

June 17, 2013

Podcast & iTunes U Round-Up #1

As usual, I am years behind everyone else when it comes to media and technology, but! About a year ago I started listening to podcasts and was surprised to find I really enjoyed them. More recently, I discovered iTunes U, and of course my first order of business was to seek out any and all lectures related to the Trojan War. Here are the ones I’ve listened to so far!

History of Theatre I
(2010, Freed-Hardeman University)

I listened to: “‘Agamemnon’ Discussion”

As the title suggests, this is a discussion about Aeschylus’ “Agamemnon” that touches on topics such as the play’s characters and themes, its possible visual impact, and how it fits into the larger Trojan War story. You probably need some familiarity with the play in order to follow what they’re talking about, but I enjoyed the discussions of how it might have been performed and received during its original production in classical Athens. I especially enjoyed the students’ confusion as to whether or not we are supposed to think that Agamemnon slept with Cassandra. Welcome to Greek mythology, friends!!

Unfortunately the quality of this recording isn’t fantastic – you can hear people rustling about pretty much the whole time – but once I got used to it it wasn’t so bad.

Ancient Greece: Myth, Art, War
(2013, La Trobe University)

I listened to:
“The Early Greek World and Greek Myths”
“Homer’s Iliad” (an interview)
“Homer and the Trojan War”
“The Iliad and Achilles”
“Athena, Women and War”
“Rage and Resolution: The Quest of Hector”
Iliad 22: The Quest of Hector”
“A King’s Ransom: Priam and Achilles”
“Bronze Age Greece and Troy”
“Homer’s World: Dark Age Greece”
“Euripides’ ‘Iphigenia in Aulis'”
“Sophocles’ ‘Ajax'”
“Euripides’ ‘Trojan Women'”
“The Trojan War in Greek Art”

So you might say that I am a little obsessed with this iTunes U course right now; it took me just over a week to listen to the thirteen 50-minute lectures and one 14-minute interview above. (I’ve even surprised myself and started listening to the lectures that don’t have a direct connection to the Trojan War.) Even though in university I took two classes where we studied the Iliad and I have read plenty about it on top of that, I still found a lot of new observations here, presented in an informative and sometimes humourous way. I’m less familiar with Greek tragedy and vase painting, so I especially enjoyed those lectures. A really nice bonus is that the slides used in each lecture have been uploaded as well (although only about half the images show up for me). A few particularly interesting ideas discussed in these lectures include:

· The importance and changing role of horses in the Iliad vs. the way Homer seems to have no idea how chariots were used in battle.

· The ways in which the Iliad is significantly different from other ancient epics: it has no monsters (… but can we read Achilles as the monster?) and no descent to the underworld (… but can we read Priam’s visit to Achilles as a descent to the underworld?).

· Is Hector running from Achilles the first honest thing he’s ever done?

· When Athena tricks Hector, is she taking from his glory or adding to it? When Achilles is killed by an arrow, does that take from his glory or add to it?

· The Iliad is a poem written in Greek for a Greek audience, so why are all the worst atrocities in it committed by Greek characters?

· After Achilles’ death, Odysseus and Ajax fight over his armour. It is awarded to Odysseus. Does this indicate the end of the age of heroes?

In case I haven’t already made it clear, I definitely recommend these lectures to anyone interested in the topics they cover.

June 10, 2013

Laura Gill: “Helen’s Daughter”

Helen's Daughter

“You shouldn’t spend so much time in the sun,” Helen advised. “Use the Syrian cream I gave you. It’s made with crushed pearls, to keep your skin white and soft. We used it all the time in … ” She caught herself before she could tell me where.
I ventured a guess. “In Troy?”
Her needle-thin eyebrows drew together. I could almost see the regret on her face. “Yes,” she said shakily. “It was very windy.”

Novel
Pages: 330
First Published: 2011

Synopsis: When the Trojan prince Paris abducted Helen of Sparta, she left behind a nine-year-old daughter, Hermione.

Now, years later, the Trojan War is over. Nineteen-year-old Hermione eagerly awaits her father’s return, but remains ambivalent toward her mother, even as her world is once again turned upside-down. Can Hermione survive the trials that await, or will she become another victim of the curse that haunts her family?

“Eat something. I expect to bring home a queen, not a sickly waif. I want everyone who looks at you to know you’re Helen’s daughter.”
“Stop calling me that.”
Neoptolemus knelt down across from me and braced a hand on the rocking deck. “Anyone who knows who you are will call you that, whether you like it or not. Do you think it’s any different for the son of Achilles?”

Review: As far as I can tell, Helen’s Daughter is self-published and only available in e-book formats, two factors that in the past, I confess, would have led me to pass over it. However, at the moment I’m living in a small town in Japan with a significant dearth of English language Trojan War novels, so when I saw that this book could be purchased for less than five dollars, I decided to give it a try. I am extraordinarily glad that I did. Like, to the point that it’s taken me a month to write this entry because I’m scared I won’t be able to convey exactly how much I enjoyed this book.

· How is this my first time posting about a book based on the returns from Troy when I am almost as fascinated by the returns as I am by the war itself?! I mean, if you like myths about dysfunctional, murderous families, I don’t know of any better than the House of Atreus, which of course is the basis for a major section of this novel. Neoptolemus also puts in an appearance, as do Nestor (and sons) and Telemachus. The post-war interactions of the royal families of Greece are really interesting to me, and this book provides plenty.
     … but I must confess I was even more stoked when both Andromache and the too-often underused Helenus showed up. STOKED. Post-war Helenus and Andromache are so fascinating to me I can’t even tell you. And Gill’s Helenus is almost exactly as I picture him, trapped in a position where he holds a certain amount of power within a Greek palace but is constantly reminded of and disrespected for his tragic Trojan past. It took me a bit longer to get used to Gill’s Andromache, but by the end of her appearance I absolutely loved her. (I was really pleased by Gill’s use of certain elements and rejection of certain other elements from Euripides’ “Andromache.”) I also really love the idea that the names we know the Trojan characters by were not their real names, but taunting names given to them by their Greek captors. The way that Gill differentiates Trojan culture and Greek culture is really interesting. My one complaint about the appearance of Helenus and Andromache in this novel is that I kept waiting to hear what Helenus was doing in the days leading up to the fall of Troy, and such an explanation never came. I suppose I shall have to settle for the theory I dutifully created based on the few hints in the text.

· Every time I write a post on this blog that criticizes a book’s portrayal of its female characters, I spend the rest of the day fighting with myself about the extent to which one should expect a book set in the past to reflect ideas of today. I bring this up so I can tell you that I think Helen’s Daughter does a great job not only of presenting a realistic portrayal of ancient Greece, but also of creating realistic female characters to inhabit it. It’s been too long since I’ve read a Trojan War-related novel that treated its female characters as people, so excuse me while I get excited about this. Hermione is a great character and also the novel’s first-person narrator, so we have a front row seat to her thoughts about what happens to and around her. She plays a major role in several different women’s rituals, the sort I’ve read about in non-fiction books like Bettany Hughes’ Helen of Troy but hadn’t seen before in fiction. I think I was especially happy with the way Gill portrays Hermione’s relationships with other women – believable relationships that subtly develop over time. I really appreciated the careful handling of the relationship between Helen and Hermione. Even Clytaemnestra, though treated as a villain, is given several moments that humanize her. That life would have been difficult for these women is absolutely not brushed over, and many terrible things happen to them that they are unable to prevent, but I call this novel a feminist novel because we see these characters dealing with their problems – sometimes with strength and sometimes with weakness, but always in ways that are true to both the world they live in and to the fact that they are three-dimensional people.
     Ugh that paragraph took me forever to write and I’m still not sure it says what I want it to. To sum up: this may well be the most feminist Trojan War novel I’ve ever read, and I absolutely love it for that.

· I also loved how this book presents menstruation as a totally normal part of life. As a regular annoyance that just has to be dealt with. Because, I mean, for a pretty decent number of people that’s what it is, right? I loved that there were scenes where Hermione was like “ugh I’m cramping and don’t feel like doing anything.” That is my experience exactly, har har. I’m sure there are people who would prefer not to read about this stuff at all, but for me these details made the book more realistic and I love that they’re there.

· (Skip this point for spoilers or if you don’t want to read about portrayals of rape in fiction.) Early on in the novel, Hermione is raped – and it affects her. Frequently. For years afterwards. And we see her being affected by it. The reason I feel the need to praise Helen’s Daughter for this is that I am 95% sure that this is the first Trojan War-related novel I’ve read where this happens. Way more frequent is the Greek mythology trope in which a character is raped, gives birth to the resulting child, and then is never mentioned again. (Elizabeth Cook’s Achilles takes that route about three times before the one passage where it hints at the effects of rape.) It’s interesting to me to compare the section of the book where Hermione is worried that she’s pregnant with the similar section in Adèle Geras’ Troy. Both characters take a powder to end the pregnancy – in Troy, the character travels by herself to a sketchy part of the city, buys the powder from a woman who frightens her, and takes it while alone and fearing the gods’ vengeance. In Helen’s Daughter, Hermione receives the powder as a gift from a woman who offers her assistance and sympathy and takes it – without fear of the gods – while surrounded by women she trusts. I would argue that these scenes reflect the general attitudes of the books they feature in, and I much prefer the latter.

· Once again I must confess to a preconceived bias against self-published books; I honestly expected that there wouldn’t be very much research behind Helen’s Daughter. But, as her blog makes clear, Gill has a strong interest in Mycenaean Greece and it definitely comes through in this book. I loved how many times a description of an object or a piece of jewelry had me thinking “I’ve seen pictures of that!” While there is a bit of creative license taken here and there, overall the level of attention to historical detail is really fantastic.

· Truth be told, I only have one real criticism of this book. The writing style is very calm and matter-of-fact, which overall I enjoyed, but because it’s always calm and matter-of-fact it sometimes seems at odds with what the characters are feeling or experiencing. I think a slight shift in style might have helped me to connect better with the emotions in the more intense scenes.

· This book doesn’t have one straightforward plot so much as it is the telling of an event-filled decade in Hermione’s life, but it was a great read and when I reached the end I found myself wishing it were double the length. Consider the negative ideas I had about self-published books completely shattered. I was thrilled to learn that Gill has e-published three books about Orestes, and I will definitely be reading them. With any luck, they’ll meet the high expectations that Helen’s Daughter has given me.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Smashwords

Helenus’s face remained impassive except for the faint twitch of his eyebrows. “Your mother kept her true feelings hidden.” A pause. “You are nothing at all like her.”