This was my first acquaintance with the work of Sara Douglass. She has a lot of other published books (which is more than I can say) and so obviously a lot of people like her work.
But I’m sorry; I just couldn’t do it.
I made it about halfway through this book before I gave up in disgust.
It’s not for bad writing; although I must admit, I found the frequent cackling and hand-rubbing soliloquys of the villains to be extremely bad form. I will let that pass, however, because I have enjoyed books written by authors given to melodrama before. I like melodrama when it’s well done. Handled correctly, it can enhance the emotional timbre of a novel.
No; the big problem with this novel is that I did not care one fig for any of the characters. So whether they lived or died didn’t matter to me.
I suppose Douglass thought she was being edgy. Write flawed characters that you’re not sure if you like or not! It’s all the rage! But Douglass is not George R.R. Martin, and this is not Game of Thrones, though I’m sure she’d have liked it to be. The key to writing flawed characters is to give them something that a reader can like, some redeeming quality or another; and Douglass has, in my opinion, utterly failed at this.
First, let me tell you the plotline, and then let me tell you where I think it went wrong and why.
<spoiler>The famous Labyrinth, the one that housed the Minotaur, was actually a powerful spell that protected the lands around the Aegean Sea, and kept the Minotaur, who carried great evil power, trapped within it. When Theseus seduced Ariadne into helping him escape, and later abandoned her to death on a foreign shore as a kinslayer to take her sister to his bed instead, Ariadne, the last mistress of the Labyrinth’s power, which is known as the Troy Game (hence the title of the series), swore revenge on all the world. She used her power to weaken and destroy the Game in all but the smallest city somewhere in, I think, Celtic Britain. Her revenge caused catastrophes in the Ancient World and ultimately led to the downfall of the city of Troy. She tried also to manipulate and weaken the power of her brother the Minotaur, whom she had brought back from the dead to accomplish this revenge by the power of a dark goddess (likely Hecate, but I can’t tell for sure), but he sought revenge upon her for his death in the first place.
These disasters also managed to destroy most of the gods, except for Hera, who is hanging on by a thread.</end spoiler>
Here’s my first issue: this event was powerful enough to destroy the gods, and none of them foresaw it or tried to stop it? Where were Apollo and Dionysus, who are gods of prophecy? Where was Hermes and His cleverness? And even failing that; this thing spilled over to the gods of the nearby nations (remember, Greece was hardly alone in the Ancient World). What about the Persian gods? Or the Mesopotamian gods? Or the Egyptian gods? They just stood by and watched without doing anything to stop it?
You might suggest that this dilemma could be resolved by saying that only the Greek gods actually existed, and all other gods were either not real, or were other names for the Greek gods (and the Greeks believed in syncretism, so why not?) But no; because later on we meet Celtic gods, who are being murdered as well at the hand of the dark witch Genvissa, and They are not the same as the Greek gods.
Also, it seems to be really easy to kill gods, and since the world is not completely destroyed, They don’t seem to have a useful function anyway. Perhaps Douglass did not understand the concept of “god?”
Not only that, but when the gods do appear, They do not behave in a way that is consistent with Their mythology, and no one seems to notice. For instance, one of the characters (Brutus, whom we will be discussing momentarily) believes that Artemis is guiding him to restore the former glory of Troy; and She gets him to do what She wants by seduction and the implication of a future coupling. Except that, of course, Artemis has always preferred the company of women. Wouldn’t Brutus have known that? He’s not completely stupid! Of course, it’s not really Artemis, but Genvissa, the real villainess of the piece (whom, again, we shall be discussing momentarily) but isn’t he at all suspicious?
I find this very annoying and frustrating, especially since Douglass clearly went to great efforts to familiarize herself with the culture of the Ancient World. Like Homer, she takes the time to describe in ponderous detail what people are eating and wearing. She’s aware that the ethics of the cultures of the Ancient World are not the same as modern ethics (actually, much of her story depends on this). How can she know that much about the real life of these cultures and be so dismissive and so disrespectful of the religions of those cultures, especially since her story depends upon those myths?
So now, generations later, Brutus, the last heir to Troy and the last Kingsman (which means he too has some power over the Game; what, we can’t say for sure because it’s never really explained,) seeks to restore his people, who are wanderers and slaves, to their former glory. Genvissa, the descendant of Ariadne, seeks to bring Brutus to her in order to control the last labyrinth in Britain and thus continue Ariadne’s revenge, for Reasons. But Asterion (the Minotaur) even now schemes to be reborn so that he can work against everybody.
The other major player in this fantastical soap opera is Cornelia, daughter of the Dorian (Greek) Mesopotamian King. The only reason that I know that she’s supposed to be the main character that we’re cheering for is that she is the only one whose story is told in the first person. For the rest of the book we are exposed to blurbs that mostly offer us third person personal, and occasionally, third person omniscient, and the choices never seem to have any rhyme nor reason to them, except that somehow we are supposed to also identify with Brutus because we get his third person personal perspective quite a lot.
This can be done well. Margaret Atwood is doing it well in The Year of the Flood, which I am also currently reading. But in Douglass’ hands it just feels awkward and weird, like she couldn’t decide whose story she was trying to tell.
Now, let’s examine our major characters. Genvissa is an undeemedly evil b*tch, for no other reason I can discern than she is Ariadne’s descendant and Ariadne taught her daughters and granddaughters to carry out her revenge. What’s in it for Genvissa? Why the hell should she care about some ancient quarrel her great-grandmother had? If she wants personal power, why aren’t we given more insight as to why? Was she abused as a child? We don’t know; she’s just evil because the piece needs an evil witch to do all the evil magic. Not to mention that she seems to have better powers of precognition than the gods ever did, and the ability to anticipate anything the nominal “good guys” might try to do to stop her nastiness or even save themselves; which is a bit like having a Dungeon Master who just comes up with a way to screw up your plans no matter what you do when you’re gaming, which makes you ask, “Why bother?” And she’s given no redeeming qualities at all. She just uses all the people around her, even people who have absolutely nothing to do with any of this, and destroys them utterly without a thought.
Then there’s Asterion. He’s the only guy in the piece I actually understand. He’s been screwed, by everybody, and he’s out to get control of his life back and maybe vengeance on the people who screwed him. But everyone treats him like he’s some great force of apocalyptic darkness, and we are supposed to believe in his unrelenting evil because everyone tells us he’s evil. Right now I’m hoping that if anybody wins, it’s him.
Brutus, the would-be Trojan king, is a man of his time. He’s brutal, violent, and cares about nothing and no one except for the restoration of Troy. He’s miserable even to his friends. And for some reason we’re supposed to identify with him? Especially after he rapes and “takes to wife” the main character, Cornelia? Now granted, the Ancient World did not have the same moral outrage towards rape that we do, but if Douglass wants us to like the character, she has to work around that somehow. Later on we’re supposed to warm to him because he has thoughts of regret about his actions and tries to win Cornelia’s love; when he isn’t slapping her for defying him.
In the meantime, Cornelia quite understandably schemes for hers and her father’s freedom and the freedom of her people, and revenge on these invading Trojans. I really wanted to like Cornelia. I was reminded of Sanza in Game of Thrones, who was hated so roundly by so many people who watched the show for just being a teenager. But no. The story lost me completely because moments where we were given an opportunity for pathos were ignored, and her behaviour in response to the situation is as inconsistent and nonsensical as the plot.
Having become completely impatient and disgusted at this point, I do what I sometimes do when the story frustrates me, which is to skim ahead in the hopes it would improve.
[And I read a scene in which, at some point in the future, Cornelia cries because of what could have been but wasn’t when Brutus dies. So now the conquered woman is won over by the alpha male barbarian; is that it? Seriously, f*ck off. Maybe Douglass was trying to show us that Brutus might have been a decent guy if his culture and the manipulations of Genvissa hadn’t molded him into something twisted. But even so, now it’s some woman’s fault for tempting him. Yuck. (hide spoiler)]
<spoiler>And I read a scene in which, at some point in the future, Cornelia cries because of what could have been but wasn’t when Brutus dies. So now the conquered woman is won over by the alpha male barbarian; is that it? Seriously, f*ck off. Maybe Douglass was trying to show us that Brutus might have been a decent guy if his culture and the manipulations of Genvissa hadn’t molded him into something twisted. But even so, now it’s some woman’s fault for tempting him. Yuck.</end spoiler>
What’s worse is that in between all the already-confusing switches of perspective, we are treated to periodic seemingly nonsensical interruptions in which a guy named jack Skelton is walking around 1940s London looking for someone.
Ah, I see. This saga carries on with the very same characters I dislike through numerous reincarnations, continuing the same soap opera that has no logic to support it in the first place? And it goes on through three more books?
Nope! I’m done. I opt out. If you tackle this thing, I hope you have better luck with it than I did. I’m sure I will try something else by her in the future to try to be fair about it. I’m reluctant to declare that everything Douglass has done is terrible since I haven’t read anything else she’s done. But this one? Yeah. I say; just don’t.
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