Tagged: ancient greece

My New York Trip Day #3: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

DSCN1948Today I was awake enough to go and attempt the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  It’s something that I’ve wanted to see since I learned that they had an enormous Egyptian wing.  As you guys obviously know by now, I’m a big fan of ancient Egypt so there was no way I’d miss out on this opportunity!  But once I got in the doors, I was overwhelmed.  The museum is even bigger than I’d thought so I decided to head to the Greco-Roman wing first, thinking I’d hit the Egyptian section later.  Wrong!  I got to the museum at 11:00 and left at 5:00 and that was barely enough time to appreciate everything in that wing from the Romans, Greeks and Etruscans.

DSCN1950One of the things I was constantly and consistently amazed by was the quality of metal work displayed in the early Greek civilization.  I believe these are some Minoan or Cretan gold fragments and they’re even more impressive up close.  The beautiful amount of detail the ancients managed on these tiny little gold pieces is fabulous.  Later on their gold work gets even more intricate but even in their early civilization they created just amazing works of art. Continue reading

Spoils of Olympus: By the Sword by Christian Kachel

Spoils of Olympus By the Sowrd by Christian Kachel(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

322 B.C. The Macedonian Empire is on the verge of civil war following the sudden death of Alexander the Great.

As a boy, Andrikos watched as Alexander’s army marched through his homeland of Greek Ionia after defeating the Persians at the Granicus River on their way to the total conquest of the Persian Empire. Soon he will be embroiled in their world, forced to flee his old life due to an unintentional crime.

Thrust into the army, Andrikos struggles to cope with the brutal yet necessary training which his superiors put him through to prepare for the coming wars of succession as Alexander’s surviving generals seek to divide and conquer the spoils of Olympus.

But Andrikos is not destined to be a nameless soldier; by chance he is chosen for a clandestine mission – and is immersed in a world of intrigue, violence and brotherhood.

The path that lies ahead of Andrikos requires him to shed his immaturity and take on the responsibilities and emotions of a man beyond his years as he struggles to save Alexander’s legacy from those who wish to usurp it.

The Spoils of Olympus: By the Sword is a historical epic which follows the advancements of one soldier from boy to man set during a time of global conflict.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

Much has been written about Alexander the Great but the aftermath of his death isn’t nearly so popular a topic simply because it was a really complex politic situation.  Kings were rising and falling with alarming rate and the diadochi were tearing each other to pieces over the least little thing.  Enter into this world Andrikos, who lives in Illandra with the other Ionian Greeks Alexander liberated.  He’s had a rough time what with his father dying and his uncle seeming to constantly disapprove of him and he falls in with the wrong sort of crowd pretty quickly.  It’s that wrong crowd that really causes him to leave and become a soldier.

Andrikos and the other characters were pretty good.  I particularly enjoyed Vettias, the old spymaster of first Philip, then Alexander and now Eumenes who is under command of Perdiccas.  He’s a clever man and if there’s one thing he knows, it’s people.  Seeing him try to train Andrikos to become the same sort of suave, sophisticated man-of-the-world that he is was funny but touching at times because you really start to see Andrikos grow up.  Throughout the novel Andrikos goes through so much and the brutal training he receives to become a proper soldier in the beginning really is just the beginning.  But because of all the things that he goes through, he finally starts to become a man.  There’s very little left in the mischief-making boy that we met in the beginning of the novel, particularly by the end.  So he at least has a believable character arc and it is very satisfying.

Christian Kachel clearly knows his stuff about the Wars of Alexandrian Succession.  It’s a complicated period filled with secret alliances, backstabbing and war and he conveys the feeling of the time quite well.  This atmosphere of both hope and despair plays out with the characters, particularly with Andrikos.  He leaves Illandra hopeful to join the military, is despairing when he goes through the brutal training and then again becomes hopeful as Eumenes moves against some of the other diadochi for his first battle.  Of course there are more examples of that but I really don’t want to spoil a large part of the plot, particularly some of the interesting twists near the end.  As for his historical accuracy, I’m no expert on the period but after a little bit more research to remind me of names and such it actually is quite accurate.  He doesn’t feel the need to add in battles and people that really didn’t exist other than the main character because the history itself is exciting enough.

My only problem with Spoils of Olympus: By the Sword is that the dialogue lacks both realism and subtlety.  I get that this is historical fiction and of course the language is different from ours in different time periods, but I just found the dialogue unbelievable.  Everyone from soldiers to spies gives great big long speeches about the problem at hand when just a few words would really suffice.  Sometimes the speeches make sense, like when Leandros is recounting his campaigns with Alexander.  Sometimes they don’t, like when the different commanders are giving their soldiers encouragement during the battle.  In a battle as bloody and vicious as a phalanx battle, you’re not going to stop and give your subordinates almost a full paragraph of encouragement.

And that really leads into the other problem: the total lack of subtlety.  Christian Kachel knows his stuff but really assumes that readers don’t, which would be fine if he introduced the history in subtler ways.  But he doesn’t.  No, characters saying things like this: “The Hypaspists are now known as the Silver Shields since the India Campaign under the commands of Generals Nicanor and Seleucus.”  That’s just not realistic because by the time Alexander was dead and Andrikos’ brother Leandros comes back to Illandra, everyone would have known that.  The readers wouldn’t have but the characters most certainly would and it could have been introduced in a much more subtle way through dialogue, i.e. “How many Silver Shields got back from India?”  “I don’t know, but Seleucus and Nicanor sure tried their best to get all of them back after that huge win.”  That’s not the best example but it is better than characters constantly stating the obvious.

So while By the Sword is a good book and I believe that Christian Kachel is a good writer, I did have a hard time coping with the dialogue.  At the same time, I loved both the characters and the moderate pacing of the story that just kept increasing.  If my review has at all intrigued you, I would definitely encourage you to pick this book up and give it a try.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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Search for the Golden Serpent by Luciana Cavallaro

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00044](Cover picture courtesy of the author.)

It’s not where he appears, it’s when.
What if you’re born during another time grew up in the 21st century and thrust back into the past? Confused? So is architect, Evan Chronis.
Evan drawn by screams ventures out to his backyard and sees blood trickling down the limestone steps. He steps off the veranda and finds himself in the days of great and marvellous power, a time when the gods ruled the universe.
To return to the 21st century life he longs for, he must risk his life in search of powerful, treasured relics older than the Holy Grail. But what he finds might be more than he expected.
Will Evan find the relics and return home or will he remain forever stuck in a world so different from his own?

[Full disclosure: I was contacted by the author and provided with an ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I’ve read quite a few of Luciana Cavallaro’s previous works so I was pretty excited to read Search for the Golden Serpent.  The only problem was that she had previously only published short stories and I was a little worried about how she would transition into longer works like this one.  After all, a 354 page novel is not the same as a 40 page short story.  Still, I was more than ready to give her a chance.  In the end, I honestly didn’t even need to worry in the slightest.  Her debut novel is just as good as her previous short stories, even better in many ways.

Evan Chronis is a very memorable character.  In the modern world he’s a successful architect who absolutely adores his job.  Then Zeus decides that he’s needed back in his real time: the early years of ancient Greece, after the sinking of the mythical Atlantis.  I don’t know about you but being immersed in the modern world and suddenly being contacted by a god who drops you in the ancient world would be a little jarring to say the least.  Evan, understandably, really doesn’t handle it all that well in the beginning until he begins to speak the language and make friends.  But poor Evan, called Evandros in his own time, doesn’t ever really get a break: Zeus and the other gods have sent him on a mission to recover powerful artifacts to prevent their eventual fading into historical fiction in the modern era.

He really does have a remarkable physical journey but also a mental and emotional one.  When he goes back to the past he fights it tooth and nail, desperate to go back to our own time.  However, when he realizes that his only option is to recover the artifacts he throws himself fully into the task.  In the beginning Evan is also a little arrogant in his own way, utterly convinced that the people in the past are more primitive and somewhat inferior.  Yet through his journeys he tends to appreciate them a little more and realize that many ancient cultures had more accomplishments than just their fantastic architecture.  And when he befriends Phameas on the ship that rescues him and is forced to learn an entirely new language in a very short time, it sort of humbles him.  He learns a lot on his journey and it was really interesting to see how his character changed throughout the course of the novel.

One of the things I absolutely loved is that Luciana Cavallaro has clearly done her research.  She so vividly describes past cultures that we very rarely read about in historical fiction that you feel like you’re really there.  From the streets of Carthage to the temples of ancient Egypt and a ship from Phoenicia, you will feel totally immersed in the world of the ancient Mediterranean.  It’s brilliant because it shows old empires like Egypt and contrasts it with the rising might of the Greeks.  It’s so rare in historical fiction to get a more international picture like this one and it’s a real treat to have it handled by an author with such a passion for history.  Obviously Evan and his group are fiction but many of the main events and where they occurred are real.  It’s absolutely fascinating and I’m not really doing it justice with this description.

The plot begins a little slow but that’s quickly remedied as Evan is contacted by Zeus and is forced to become Evandros, the version of himself that was raised solely in the past instead of just being born in it.  I suppose some people will find Evan’s period on the Phoenician ship a little boring but I really enjoyed his adjustment period as he learned more about the world he was suddenly dropped into.  It helps that Evan’s point of view is interspersed with scenes with the gods, who are more than a little worried about their fate as well as scenes with the rest of his crew, who are understandably wondering where the Evandros they knew and loved has gone and whether or not he’s even alive.  By the time I got to the end of the book I was on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what would happen next. The ending was a cliffhanger but it was a good place to stop and it was a fairly satisfying end.  It made me want more but I had fewer questions than when I started out.

Luciana Cavallaro really has a gift for making you care about her characters and their fates even if you don’t necessarily think they’re sympathetic or likeable.  That much was obvious from her short stories but she really transitioned into a longer work really well.  The beautiful descriptions that were the hallmark of her short stories for me are expanded and add so much more to the richness of the world she brought to life.  So if you loved Cavallaro’s short stories, you will also love Search for the Golden Serpent.  And if you’re never ready anything by her, you need to pick up one of her short stories and/or pre-order a copy of her debut novel.  You certainly won’t regret it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Oracles of Delphi by Marie Savage

Oracles of Delphi by Marie Savage(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

All Althaia wants on her trip to Delphi is to fulfill her father’s last wish and enjoy time away from her tiresome new husband. Finding the body of a young woman on the altar of Dionysos in the theater of the Sacred Precinct on her first day in town is not in her plans. Neither is getting involved in the search for the killer, falling for the son of a famous priestess, or getting pulled into the ancient struggle for control of the two most powerful oracles in the world. But that’s exactly what happens when Theron, Althaia’s tutor and a man with a reputation for finding the truth, is asked to investigate. When a priest hints that Theron himself may be involved, Althaia is certain the old man is crazy-until Nikomachos, son of the famous priestess of Dodona, arrives with an urgent message. As Theron’s past, greedy priests, paranoid priestesses, visions, prophecies, and stolen treasures complicate the investigation, Althaia finds herself falling for Nikomachos whose dangerous secrets may hold the key to the young woman’s death. When another body is found and Althaia discovers Nikomachos is being blackmailed, she devises a plan to coerce the killer to reveal himself and, in the process, forces Nikomachos to confront his own past. As the plan unfolds, she comes to realize that love often comes at a high price and that the true meaning of family is more than a blood bond.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I have to admit that I’m not usually one for murder mysteries set in ancient times.  They always seemed a little bit cheesy to me, with the investigators using modern techniques that the ancients really did not use.  However, I thought Oracles of Delphi sounded pretty cool and was worth a try.  Good thing I did because I would have missed out on a pretty good book if I hadn’t.

Althaia is a fascinating character.  She’s a woman in Athens, so of course she’s essentially property, but she does have a significant amount of wealth thanks to her father.  That allows her the freedom to travel to Delphi, where there’s a little more freedom for women (not that it would take much compared to Athens).  There in Delphi she discovers that the Oracles of Apollon and Gaia are competing for supremacy and Apollon’s have been kicking butt for the past hundred or so years.  But what was supposed to be a pilgrimage a year after her father’s death turns into a murder investigation when the naked body of a priestess of Gaia shows up on Apollon’s altar.

One of the things that made Althaia really stick out to me was the complexity of her character.  She’s intelligent and thoughtful but at the same time can be blinded by her own privilege to the suffering of people around her.  This is showcased especially well through the eyes of her personal slave, Nepthys when the book changes points of view.  Althaia uses this intelligence to perform an autopias on the body, discovering the cause of death and getting a little closer to the murderer.  She’s had an unconventional childhood thanks to her father’s enlightened views so it’s interesting to see her more modern views warring with the increasingly patriarchal society around her.

Speaking of that Marie Savage did a very in-depth study of the Greek world of the time.  She posits that this is the time when worship moved away from the goddesses and the gods suddenly reigned supreme.  The Oracle of Apollon gained more power while the old Oracle of Gaia lost all of hers.  It’s an interesting time of change in the Greek world and I’m so glad that Savage chose to set her novel during this time; it just wouldn’t be nearly as good without the societal conflicts.  Add to that the fact that a certain King Philip is reigning in what we know as Macedon and you’ve got yourself a well-researched book where no matter your knowledge of the ancient Greeks, you can at least be familiar with some elements.

The plot is not as fast-paced as that of a modern murder mystery, but it is still fast-paced enough that you won’t want to put it down.  Marie Savage managed to slowly ratchet up the tension as the book went along, without all the normal drag in the middle, so you truly will want to make this a one-sitting book.  Enemies are around every corner and truly nothing is as it seems in Delphi at the time.  Add in just a couple interesting subplots with the main characters and you’ve got a pretty darn good book.  I really just can’t recommend it enough if you love either ancient history or murder mysteries.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Penelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona

Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona(Cover picture courtesy of Excuse Me, I’m Writing.)

The award-winning author of The Four Seasons retells The Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus and Penelope’s daughter.

With her father Odysseus gone for twenty years, Xanthe barricades herself in her royal chambers to escape the rapacious suitors who would abduct her to gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother’s cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.

And when a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future-a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn’t know she exists…

For me, this book was a solid ‘meh’.  There were some elements that were awesome and some that weren’t but the main reason for my indifferent reaction is the lack of emotional quality in Laurel Corona’s writing.  I know Xanthe falls in love at one point.  Do I really feel it?  Not so much.

My favourite part of the whole novel is probably the level of detail that was put into it.  Laurel Corona seamlessly wove Xanthe’s story into the greater story of the Trojan War, bringing life into a character Homer never considered important.  I loved all the little details about weaving but also the details of daily life in Ithaca and Sparta.  The author has this way of describing things that makes you feel like you’re actually there.  It’s a truly magical experience.

One of the so-so aspects of the novel was the characters.  Helen was fascinating and I can honestly say I would’ve preferred hearing her point of view than Xanthe’s.  Xanthe is a rather bland character overall and as I said earlier I felt no emotional attachment to her.  She got mad at times, was in love, felt true happiness, etc.  Yet I, the reader, felt pretty much none of it.  I was being told she experienced these things rather than experiencing them right along with her.  The odd part was that I really felt for Helen so it could be a matter of personal preference.  Who knows?

The plot does drag in some places, particularly during Xanthe’s childhood in Ithaca.  I love all of the little details to be sure, but some of them really just didn’t need to be there to understand the story.  Sometimes Xanthe’s chronicle dragged when she was with Helen in Sparta and that was rather disappointing considering how amazing Helen is in this interpretation.  Overall the plot was fairly good but I did feel let down at the end of the novel when Odysseus returns.  It just felt like Laurel Corona was rehashing the myth without adding a new variation on it.

Basically, meh.  Penelope’s Daughter has some good and some bad in it.  It’s worth a try if you think it sounds interesting but I wouldn’t go out of my way to convince you to read it.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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The Hittite by Ben Bova

The Hittite by Ben Bova(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

This is the tale of Lukka, the Hittite soldier who traveled across Greece in search of the vicious slave traders who kidnapped his wife and sons.  He tracks them all the way to war-torn Troy.  There he proves himself a warrior to rank with noble Hector and swift Achilles.  Lukka is the man who built the Trojan horse for crafty Odysseus, who toppled the walls of Jericho for the Isrealites, who stole beautiful Helen–the legendary face that launched a thousand ships–from her husband Menaleus after the fall of Troy and fought his way across half the known world to bring her safely to Egypt.

I wasn’t really sure what I expected of The Hittite, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.  The opening scene takes place amidst the chaos of the sack of Hattusas where Lukka is desperately trying to keep discipline in the garrison while finding his family.  The once mighty Hittite empire has been thrown into chaos by a bloody civil war and once Lukka learns that his wife and sons are bound for Troy as slaves, there’s only one place he can go.  Except when he gets there, not all is as it seems.

The thing I like most about The Hittite is how Ben Bova portrayed all of the famous characters from the proud (and vain) Achilles to Helen.  I love how Achilles is the proud fool he was in the original legend while Helen is an independent woman desperate to survive in a world where women are, for the most part, chattel.  The most heartbreaking part of the whole novel is when we hear Helen’s tale from Apet her nursemaid and see just how much she really did suffer in Sparta.  It’s a much more realistic portrayal of Spartan life than I’ve ever seen and had I been in Helen’s place I would have done the exact same thing: use Paris to escape to Troy.

The other thing I liked was that Ben Bova’s writing style has the perfect balance for historical fiction.  He is able to describe everything so that I felt like I was there, but he never really gets into the long-winded descriptions that some authors of historical fiction do.  I liked how he explained the implausible things from the Trojan myth (Achilles’ weakness, the Trojan horse) in a way that makes you believe it really could have happened that way and the story could have just grown into something more.

Overall, I absolutely loved The Hittite.  I wasn’t going to pick it up at first, but it was in the bargain bin at my local bookstore so I figured I had nothing to lose.  Trust me, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fall in love with The Hittite once you start reading it.  It’s well worth the cover price.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Short Story: A Goddess’ Curse by Luciana Cavallaro

A Goddess' Curse by Luciana Cavallaro(Cover picture courtesy of Smashwords.)

Hera, Queen of the Gods, is the most powerful goddess on Mount Olympos. Beautiful, sensual, and merciless, she is a goddess renowned for her jealous rages and for inflicting horrors on hapless victims. She’s the protector of women, virtue, family and marriage yet her husband, Zeus, has had countless affairs. She puts up with it. Why? Is she really malicious or a product of circumstance?

For the first time ever in a candid interview, Hera shares what it’s like to be a goddess and wife to Zeus, the King of the Gods.

Drake Dabbler, chat show host, sees his exclusive interview with Queen Hera as a sure road to a Daytime Emmy… He should have been more thorough in his research.

[Full disclosure: Luciana Cavallaro sent me a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.]

I definitely had my doubts about A Goddess’ Curse simply because it was focusing on Hera, who is renowned throughout Greek mythology for fitting the jealous woman stereotype.  Her treatment of Zeus’ lovers was well-documented as was her part in the Trojan War.  So when I started this short story I was wondering if Luciana Cavallaro would go for the Ice Queen interpretation or something a little more sympathetic.

As it turns out, she decided on a combination of the two.  Learning about Hera in her own words through an interview with an over-zealous TV host is interesting, but the reactions she gives said TV host are priceless.  Not only do you get to see her side of the story in her own words, you get to see flashes of her personality in her interactions with other characters.  I like Luciana Cavallaro’s interpretation of Hera and I absolutely love how she stays true to the goddess’ character by revealing her actions at the end of the story.  I don’t want to spoil things, but what she does is very, very similar to what happened to some of Zeus’ lovers.

There really isn’t much more to say.  Both Drake and Hera were great characters who had interesting interactions, the plot was fast-paced and Luciana Cavallaro covered pretty much all of the topics of interest in the interview.  I’m starting to love the way she lets famous women tell their stories because telling them in third person but having the characters do an interview is very insightful.  Honestly, I wish we had a whole novel from Hera’s point of view.  Yes, A Goddess’ Curse was really that good.

I give this short story 5/5 stars.

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