Saturday, 25 June 2016

Book review #2: Troy have read quite a few books on Troy already - my favourite being Colleen McCullough's Song of Troy - so I had pretty high hopes when a friend recommended David Gemmell's Troy trilogy. Initially, however, I found the first half of Lord of the Silver Bow a struggle as we seemed to spend the entire time flitting between multiple character perspectives heavy on both description and back story, whilst very little seemed to happen in the present. The Great Green (Mediterranean Sea) seemed to be the main setting for the story and Troy itself was barely mentioned, let alone under siege.

However, once I settled into Gemmell's writing style and the story started moving along, I started to believe that the author is actually some kind of genius. The depth he gives to multiple characters across the trilogy, while at first seemed a waste of text, actually means the reader engages far more with each character by understanding their motivation and often tragic pasts. Gemmell made his mark by writing 'heroic fantasy' but I think his true genius is in making these characters flawed. All his 'heroes' do evil things, while many of those on the Mykene side against Troy are perhaps more noble than their 'victims' in the Golden City. I find this reminiscent of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones where characters routinely fall into that grey area between good and evil, which I believe is a more modern and believable approach to human nature, unlike traditional tales like Tolkein's work, where heroes are always honourable and villains dark to the core.
From the second half of the first book through Shield of Thunder and Fall of Kings, the pace picks up considerably and characters we recognise from the original myth become more prevalent, although the narrative still often focuses on Gemmell's own creations. The beauty here is that, in these novels, everything has been twisted a little from previous adaptations. Odysseus sides with Agammemnon out of necessity not choice, Achilles does not dishonour Hektor but falls with him, and the Trojan Horse ploy refers to a trick with the Trojan cavalry rather than a giant wooden horse. And Helen is barely mentioned, described as 'plain and plump', her last heroic act in life instead giving rise to her legend of beauty.
The third string to Gemmell's (Silver) bow, which I was perhaps most impressed by, is his action sequences of which I have not seen the like before. Both the micro (following one character) and the macro (whole army stratagem) are so detailed yet fast-paced it feels more like you are watching a film as you can visualize every sword swing and cavalry charge in real-time. He also makes sure, even with ongoing themes of honour and glory, that battle and violence are not glorified, describing war as grim and gruesome, whilst contrasting that with dialogue of the soldiers and kings who are so battle-worn they do not see the horror. This helps to root the narrative in the reality of an ancient time that was far bloodier than our own, where the hypocrisy of honour and casual murder ran side by side to create a violent yet proud society.
Overall verdict: From a well-worn myth, Gemmell creates something entirely new with a skill of pen that should itself become legendary.

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