Chasing Odysseus (#1) by S. D. Gentill

Published: 1st March 2011 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Pantera Press
Pages: 353
Format: ebook
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Weak-eyed Hero is the beloved daughter of Agelaus, a Herdsman of Mount Ida, which looms over the fortified citadel of Troy. Hero, raised under the gentle hand of her father, in the protective company of her three wild, but noble, brothers, is ruled by a fierce piety, and tormented by her Amazon heritage. 

The Herdsmen of Ida hold a sacred trust. Throughout a 10-year Greek siege, they have been feeding the citizens of Troy using the secret tunnels that run beneath the fortress walls. Faithful and fearless, they traverse the ancient passages that only they know. Now Troy has fallen, and despite having led the survivors out of the carnage, the Herdsmen are falsely accused of betrayal. 

Agelaus is murdered by the anguished Trojans. The Herdsmen find themselves hated and hunted by both the Greeks and their friends, the people of Troy. They are forced into hiding, labelled cowards and traitors. Desperate to free their people from the stigma of treachery, young Hero and her brothers accept a magical ship from Pan, their beloved woodland god. They chase after Odysseus, the strategist of those who laid siege to Troy. Only he can explain how the Greeks entered the city, and in doing so cleanse the Herdsmen of the stain of treachery. 

I have wanted to read this book for ages and totally forgot I’d gotten a copy from NetGalley (bad reviewer!). What I found though when I did start reading it, was that it was quite underwhelming. I had been so intrigued by this book for ages and heard good things that I genuinely thought I would enjoy this more than I actually did. I like Greek mythology and I like The Odyssey but while this had familiar characters and references, it did not hold my interest. I found myself skimming just to get through faster.

The story begins up in the mountains that overlook Troy with the herdsman Agelaus and his four children; Hero and her three brothers, Machaon, Cadmus and Lychon. We are introduced to their lives as the Trojan War enters its tenth year and we’re shown what life has been like for those outside the city. We learn early on of Hero’s heritage as an Amazon and how she was rejected by them and left with Agelaus because of her poor eyesight and she is adopted into his family.

The main story kicks off with the fall of Troy and Agelaus is accused of being a traitor who helped the Greeks raiders get into the city. This of course sparks outrage and backlash and it falls on Hero and her brothers to clear the name of her father and discover how the Greeks breached the walls of Troy. This of course means chasing after Odysseus in an effort for him to reveal how he got into the city.

The premise of the story seems intriguing enough, but it is the characters that I feel let it down. I didn’t like Hero as a character. I kept waiting for her Amazonian heritage to come into play and have her be some mighty force, even with her poor eyesight. Instead she is subdued and focuses more on praying to the gods than doing much in terms of helping. Her brothers constantly mock her for her devotion to the gods, and I will say I did like the reminder that just like the present day, not everyone believed in the gods. Her brothers aren’t that interesting either. They all kind of mixed into one another and I didn’t feel connected to them at all.

As for the story, I was intrigued by the premise but it just seemed so strange and mediocre. Gentill does well to reference the original story of The Odyssey, following Odysseus after he ransacks Troy and all the places he visits, but aside from that familiarity I wasn’t that interested. Nothing seems to happen, following after Odysseus isn’t very captivating and even though Gentill tries to add danger and suspense, my lack of interest in the characters didn’t make me concerned for their safety or success and following an already established story didn’t add any real mystery as to what might happen next, probably not in the way Gentill expected it to.

There are heartfelt moments and sad moments which tries to give depth to the narrative, but not executed well enough to feel substantial in my opinion. This is only the first book in a trilogy so it is highly possible all the characters will get some kind of development and growth as the story progresses. The only problem with that though is my interest hasn’t been piqued enough in this book to want to keep going with the series.

You can purchase Chasing Odysseus via the following

Booktopia | Dymocks | Fishpond

QBD | Angus & Robinson

Amazon | Amazon Aust

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Published: 6th March 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 W. W. Norton & Company
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fantasy
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin through their upheaval in Ragnarok. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki son of a giant blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

I know that this is a Neil Gaiman book, and Neil Gaiman is a great storyteller, this time, however, I can’t say that is the case. I loved his work for younger kids, Coraline and The Graveyard Book are amazing. But this…it was boring. It was dull and read like an information dump and I couldn’t get into the “story”. I’d read Gaiman’s introduction and heard all the praise from reviews and readers and I was ready to be taken into this world of mythology alongside Loki and Thor and all their misadventures.  I wanted to be thrown into this world and be captured by their charm and cheek and might. But there was none of that. It was dry and needed a bit more substance to make it less like a textbook of names and facts.

I’m sure this was not Gaiman’s intention, mythology doesn’t need to just be “this god did this and then that happened and then this other god did this” which is how this felt for me reading it. A bit of interesting and creative storytelling could have been included to make it read more like a story without losing the well known mythology. I wasn’t expecting it to read like The Odyssey or anything like that, I didn’t need poetic verse, but I thought Gaiman could have made it more seamless and natural, more of a novelisation of these myths. This was not a story, nor was it even a bunch of short stories. It was a weird experience and one that I grew to dislike very early one.

Now, I will admit some parts were funny. I did laugh at a few scenes and lines, and in the end I had learnt things I hadn’t known about Norse mythology. The problem was that by the midway point I was losing interest and resorted to skimming a few stories and going back in for the final few chapters. The disappointing thing was that nothing much of the stories was lost on me since the book just had key points listed one after another I could get the gist of what I needed to learn and the story that was trying to be told.

The final chapters were interesting, Ragnarok being a hard thing to really ruin, but it was the same style of writing that failed to grab me. I chose to focus instead on looking at the bigger picture and thinking back to the entire story as a whole and making my own story and connections to bring the entire mythology to an end. Something maybe Gaiman could have done a bit better himself.

You can purchase Norse Mythology via the following

Book Depository | Dymocks | Booktopia

Amazon | Amazon Aust 

World of Books | Fishpond | Angus & Robertson

QBD | The Nile

 

Warrior Lore by Ian Cumpstey

Published: 2nd May 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Skadi press
Pages: 76
Format: ebook
Genre: Folk ballads/mythology
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Warrior Lore is the second collection of Scandinavian folk ballads translated into English verse by Ian Cumpstey, following Lord Peter and Little Kerstin. These narrative ballads were part of an oral tradition in Scandinavia, and were first written down around 1600. Included in this book are stories of heroes and fighters, Vikings, and trolls. 

The legendary hero Widrick Waylandsson comes face to face with a troll in the forest. Thor resorts to cross-dressing in a bid to recover his stolen hammer. The daughter of the King of Sweden is abducted from a convent in the Swedish countryside. A young fighter has to show off his prowess in skiing and shooting for King Harald Hardrada. And more…

Note: I was provided a copy of this book for review.

This collection is a translation of numerous Scandinavian ballads going back to the 1600s in written form, and much farther in the oral tradition. They tell stories of Viking battles, fights for ladies hands, and battles against mountain trolls. The ballads themselves are not very long and with only ten in the collection this is a fairly quick read.

Cumpstey explains beforehand what each ballad is about and yet this does not ruin the reading because as you read each ballad you recollect the explanation and it helps understand it more so. This means you are able to focus on other aspects of the ballad rather than trying to work out the meaning of the story. The ballads themselves are quite interesting and Cumpstey’s words evoke vivid images and history, making it easy to imagine they took place centuries ago in a Scandinavian forest.

The translation from the Scandinavian is smooth and each story is easy to understand. Cumpstey maintains the narrative yet lyrical nature with his translation making it remain ballad like rather than poetry and whether read aloud or silently there is a natural rhythm that is easily established.

Each ballad is different from one another, both in story and in style. There is humour in the ballads making them light and entertaining, but there are also those that show more violence. Cumpstey’s writing is clever though and he is quite skilled at making the darker and more violent ballads straightforward and without much brutality, but at the same time in no way makes them less serious or important in nature.

The ballads cover various legendary characters in Scandinavian history such as Widrick Waylandsson, as well as Diderick of Bern and Siva Snare Sven. Possibly more familiar figures such as Thor and Loki, the gods of Norse myth, are also featured, though they are known here as Thor-karl and Locke Leve. There are a range of characters and figures through these ballads and they contain stories about trolls, Vikings, kings, heroes and fighters alike. The characters are presented well, even in the limitations of verse, and Cumpstey uses their actions to aid the description and understanding of who these characters are.

As a lover of history as well as myths and legends, I loved reading about these figures who have had their names live on through history through ballads and the written word for centuries. By bringing these stories together Cumpstey has created a collection that brings some possibly unknown stories and names to a wider audience in a way that is informative, interesting, engaging, and certainly enjoyable.

You can purchase Warrior Lore via the following

Amazon

Amazon UK

Amazon Aust

Skadi Press