Lord of the silver bow

Blergh.

Lord of the silver bow is the first book in David Gemmell’s Troy series, which is more of an alternate history version of the Trojan war than it is a reimagining of the Iliad, which is how I frequently see the series portrayed.

Brief plot summary

Tensions are rising between the Greeks and Trojans.

Aeneas and Odysseus  are close friends, despite being allied with opposing poweres. Aeneas is in love with Hector’s fiancée, Andromache. There’s a lot of complicated interpersonal relationship drama, coupled with the fact that the heroes on both sides of the conflict are basically pirates.

The actual plot is fairly convoluted and there are enough surprises that it’s hard to reveal much else here.

So how was it?

I can see how other people might like it, but it was a real struggle for me to get through.

The same person who recommended Tigana to me also recommended Gemmell’s Troy series. I had enjoyed Tigana so I decided to ILL this one. I wasn’t super pleased with the results.

My first issue was that I was expecting it to be more like the Iliad than it actually was. The first clue is that an individual who is a major player throughout most of the Iliad ends up getting killed off fairly early in the story.

My second issue is that the book feels like something that came out of the WWE. It’s oiled muscles glistening in the sun melodrama, with angsty heroes and moderately sympathetic villains who solve their problems by gritting their teeth and wailing on each other. For a book with a convoluted plot, what plot there is certainly isn’t particlarly compelling to me. It was too much “MANLY MEN! WE MUST BE MANLY BECAUSE WE ARE MEN AND LOOK AT HOW MANLY WE ARE”. It’s not a style of novel that particularly appeals to me.

It’s a little bit like listening to the DJs banter on a Christian rock radio station. It’s coming out of a worldview that is so totally alien to me that the experience is kind of surreal. Since reading requires more active engagement than listening to the radio, that ended up translating into my having to kind of force my way through the book.  It would have been easier to justify, personally, if the story had stayed closer to the myth.

I know I’ve written, as recently as my last post, about reading books to expose oneself to other cultures and other viewpoints. I can see how, given the above paragraph, I might come across as a hypocrite. Allow me to attempt a flimsy justification.

Rather than feeling like I’m being exposed to a different cultural context, Gemmell’s work feels like I’m hanging out with a group of old friends who have a large number of in-jokes. Even upon being told the story, I might understand their jokes and even rationalize why they think they are funny without finding them personally entertaining.

I found the characters largely unlikeable, although Gemmell’s portrayal of Odysseus was the main reason I found this book bearable at all. Odysseus’s personality and characterization are also more closely matched with his mythological counterpart (or at least, to how his mythological counterpart would have been perceived by a contemporary audience, according to my undergrad History of ideas profs).

In many ways, this book feels like a AAA video game. Improbably muscular dudes get angry and kill each other. I’m obviously not its target audience but I can see how people who enjoy that kind of thing might like it. I made it through the second book in the trilogy before finally giving up. I’m not putting this in the “Terrible books” category because I don’t really think it’s terrible – it’s just written for an audience that I don’t particularly relate to.

Recommendation

It’s largely billed as historical fiction, which it’s definitely not. Guy Gavriel Kaye’s fantasy novels are closer to historical fiction than this book is, and as a result I definitely would NOT recommend this one to people specifically looking for historical fiction.

I’d almost recommend Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia over this one for bronze age historical fantasy, but I  haven’t read Lavinia yet so I won’t.

I’ve occasionally recommended it to Guy Gavriel Kaye fans looking for something similar, and it does have some appeal to non-fantasy readers as long as those readers are willing to put up with some pretty severe deviations from the traditional story.

So here are my cross recommendation, with the caveat that none of these are filled with testosteroni as Gemmell’s work.

Tigana / Guy Gavriel Kay and Under Heaven

The company / K.J. Parker

The heroes / Joe Abercrombie – for a much more nuanced “RAWR VIOLENCE” experience

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