Troy: Fall Of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell
|Troy: Fall Of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Lesley Mason|
|Summary: A retelling of the myth of Troy that portrays all of the heroes and villains on all sides for the humans they were, that gets you closer to the action than you might wish and shows that war has always been the way it is. A ripping good read, but one which leaves you unsure whose side you're on.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 449||Date: August 2007|
|Publisher: Bantam Press|
This, the third chapter in Gemmell's epic re-telling of the Trojan wars, finds the heroes poised for death or glory.
Once more I come to a tale part told, so you must forgive the gaps in my knowledge which undoubtedly reduced my enjoyment of this book. I do speak, however, as an admirer of those of the Drenai and Rigante books that I have read and so with a measure of confidence of where my lack of the first two instalments is at fault, and where my opinion would probably stand in the light of them.
Those with the benefit of a classical education (which lack my English master frequently remarked in his charges) or who by special interest have mastered the Greek myths will suffer less from coming in at this point than those of us with only half-remembered gleanings from old movies and English Lit allegories.
As we re-enter the fray, the wars continue a-pace. Allegiances continue to shift... honour continues to be betrayed and observed in the most unlikely ways... and the mercenaries continue to battle for their own reasons which are only ever partly about money.
Helikaon (who is also Aneaus) has lost his wife and saved his son, and sails the Great Green in the fire-hurler Xanthos - the largest fastest ship on the seas. And he has the memory of fever dreams of Andromache - wife to Hektor, daughter-in-law to King Priam of Troy.
Hektor loves Andromache and knows not the secret that she keeps from him. He is riding with the Trojan Horse, the cavalry, south from Dardanos back to Troy.
Andromache watches the aged Priam growing old and frail of mind, and her sister the seer Cassandra growing ever wilder and more tormented, agonises over her loves and fears for the safety of her son.
Agamemnon is re-gathering his strength - he will take the treasure of Troy, and destroy Priam's dynasty in the process. Among his allies Odysseus - the Ugly One - the storyteller, beloved of Penelope, and reluctant to engage against former Trojan friends. Other kings too side with the might of Agamemnon's Mykene warriors in the hope of spoils or glory... or at least of being on the winning side.
The stage is set... There can be no going back. This is WAR.
Gemmell's retelling of the siege and fall of Troy is glorious and bloody. At his best in the battle sequences, he can whirl and crash you through a sword fight or a cavalry charge so that you can hear the bones crunch and smell the gore. He'll outline the strategy even while he explains how far it will be ignored.
In amongst it he will take us down from the heroes and kings, to Khalkeus the bronze smith and Xander the young healer... whose loyalties are no less tested as they try to follow their own consciences and conceits.
He will show us how in years of war, people live on regardless... raising their children, baking honey cakes. And how war takes people and makes of them something else as the widows of the Trojan Horse will find to their glory and their pain.
He stays with the tradition of such stories by giving us the lesser heroes, the warriors Khalliades and Banaklos - accidental leaders and brothers in arms - mercenaries, loyal to each other and to their men and to idea of a soldier's life. But with other loves and honour-binds which surprise them as much as anyone else. Men true to the core - as those who provide the comic relief must be, to avoid their being perceived as mere fools. Humour is also part of the tradition and is not overlooked.
The women too play their role. Love and jealousy are heart of all the Greek myths and there are loves and conflicts enough here for the most romantic minded. Odysseus and Penelope, Paris and Helen, the triangle Andromache and Hektor and Heliakon - even Priam in his dotage reaching out for his long dead Hekabe.
But these women are not just 'the love interest'. They are not merely lovers and wives, priestesses and seers. They are proud and strong. They will fight and die as required. They are queens and warriors... even if in rank they are mere handmaidens.
Part of the official blurb reads: "... so masterfully done that the reader thinks Ah, this is what it was really like". I have to concur with that. This is war in all its pettiness, all its misguided continuance past the point of gain, all its switching of sides and motives, propaganda and double-dealing, all of its brutality and pointlessness. If we think that PR is new to the coverage, consider the wounded being snook into Troy under cover of darkness, whilst the hale are massed at the gates for the victory parade. Or Priam held out as King long since real power has been surreptitiously eased from his failing grasp. Consider the words of the wise: it only takes one traitor to open a gate... and there always is one.
In innovation Gemmell gives us a more realistic siege - one that lasts scarcely a year, not ten - and is filled with the hardships not only in the besieged town, but in the laying waste of the land around as the besiegers must also be maintained. He gives us a new take on "the Trojan horse".
In extrapolation he gives us the death of Cassandra and the realisation of portents in a natural disaster reaching far beyond the fall of one city.
For all my enthusiasm... I do have one problem with the work, which can be summed up as 'honours even'.
My missing the first two books and not knowing the detail of the wars can excuse my confusion over exactly who came to be on which side and why... and when... the personal histories are complicated. Although quick synopses are given of past events, and to do them well enough not to impede the current flow of narrative leaves the confused reader still uncertain. This is not exactly a criticism, for I'm sure reading the whole work would overcome the issue - and for those who have, a more heavy handed repetition would be tedious. It is more in the way of a 'don't start from here'.
The real problem though is that there is courage on all sides. Equally is there honour and dishonour. Glory and approbation. None of the heroes are wholly heroic and their enemies have their golden sheen. All are, ultimately, human. Why is this a problem? Because I could not take sides. Every time my emotions were enlisted to support a candidate (hero or princess, soldier or healer), the viewpoint would switch and I'd be called upon to serve a different lord. Historically sound as this approach undoubtedly is: it made me uncomfortable as a reader. I could not fully enter the fray without being able to root for one side or the other. Odd as it may seem, I'd have preferred a slightly less balanced approach.
That said: what we have is history and legend and a truly epic imagination have created a fitting epilogue to the work of David Gemmell... one which will make me go back and start at the beginning... and maybe make me try again at the source material.
Should you be wondering at Stella Gemmell's credit as co-author, as journalist wife of David she assisted on all of three of the Troy novels, but without her this one would have remained unfinished following his sudden death in July 2006. It is not clear from reading how much of the work is his, and how much hers... whether she simply polished a virtually complete manuscript or had large gaps to flesh out or an ending to supply... the joins cannot be seen. Which is as it should be.
My apologies to Stella for treating the work as if it were David's alone.
For another take on the period try Helen of Troy - or for more of the same skill check out the back catalogue of the late David Gemmell for new myths and legends.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Troy: Fall Of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell at Amazon.com.
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