This is the story of the Iliad, retold by Colleen McCulough, one of the big and most meticulous historical fiction writers around.
However, this book fails to live up the the usual McCulough expectations. Her research is meticulous, as usual; she's clearly read the Iliad, dug into the history of ancient Greece, etc', but somehow, unlike in her vast and significantly superior Masters of Rome series, she fails to engage.
Her problems in this book are threefold:
She strikes a poor balance between revisionism of classical tects, and the retention thereofshe tried her best to stick to the story of the Iliad but, for several reasons which will be partially discussed further down, fails to stick to the characterizations it provides, and has to go to great lengths to bring forth reasons and explanations for things that happened.
She tends to admire people far too stronglythis is a problem which appears to be typical of McCulough. Her adoration for a specific 'hero' or personage blinds her to everything else. She picks out her 'favourite', and everything concerning him spirals downward from there. In the Masters of Rome books her golden boy is Caesar, the man of no flaws; she subjects his enemies to deterioration of character not indicated by any of the ancient sourcesCicero is a coward and egotistical; Brutus is a weakling, Lucullus had too many 'shrooms...
In the Song of Troy, her darling is Achilles, for which reason she chooseswrongly,I think, to represent him as a warrior poet perfect in his virtues in all way but his rage. She chooses to disregard what the Iliad puts forth as a petty, rather selfish character, and to explain his behaviour in line with the Iliad's actual text, she has to create convoluted, albeit fascinating, ploys.
Just as she loves Achilles in particular, she sides with the Greeks in general. There are foolish Greeks, but there are also wise, insightful and clever Greeks. Whereas the Trojans are nothing but negative Priam is an old, deluded fool. Hektor is not old, but a deluded fool for all that.
The womenHonestly, Colleen? Did you have to? You are female; you managed strong women in the Masters of Rome (perhaps even overly strong?) and yet all your women here act and think, even in their own POVs, like the ancient men thought they behaved and thought. My disappointment was vast.
In addition, as a final straw, all points of view in the book have the same voice. Somehow, despite the fact that one is told by Agamemnon, another by Odysseus, and a third by a semianonymous commander, the language of all parts was the very same.
It was not a poorly written book, but I found my enjoyment of it too often curtailed by annoyance. This was my first read from historical fiction heavyweight Colleen McCullough. The story of the Trojan War isn't anything new by a longshot, but McCullough presents the tale through multiple POV's from both sides of the conflict, creating an interesting experience. I really enjoyed this book even though, like the siege of Troy itself, it started to wear me down by the end.
3.5 stars rounded up to a 4
Get your copy here: https://amzn.to/2JZ2c6h Honestly, this is a travesty.
Of course, I understand that The Iliad and its chorus of fascinating characters have inspired hundreds of authors and poets across the centuries and that they have all interpreted in their own way, but this wasn't an interpretation or an homage. This was, for me, a desecration of Homer's epic poem and I can't believe it got published.
What's more disturbing to me is that this wasn't written by an amateur who didn't know anything about the work or its time period. No clearly, she did her research and read all of the plays and stories that featured the heroes of the Siege of Troy. It's all there, from the beginning to end, every famous event or twist is present in her novel and that was also a major problem with me. I mean, it felt as though she was going to submit her book to the Iliad grand jury or something and had to prove she had the writing chops. It was bogged down with so many details with explanations about the backgrounds of each character and event that It felt contrived to no end. It was as though she wanted to make sure everyone was following and understood everything. It was so heavy handed.
Every character had the same exact voice. I'd sometimes have to check the top of the page to know who was narrating that part. From Diomedes to Helen, same droning, boring and shallow voice. My God, where is the passion, emotions and pathos? These characters inspired the best writers, poets and philosophers in the world! Give them life if you dare to join the ranks of authors who tackled this ancient story! These characters aren't just Joe and Jane going to the market to buy milk!
Then to really maddened me, she completely ursuped the plot, major plotline, to fit her image of Achilles, her Christlike figure. He was so christianized, it was pathetic. He even quotes Jesus on the Cross, I believe at his time of death. In the Iliad, the first lines are about Achilles's anger and the whole story revolves around it. He is enraged because Agamemnon took Brise from him, a woman he'd taken as war loot. It's that trivial. That immature and wrong. But that makes him imperfect and flawed and we come to understand him as Homer reveals things, awful things on Agamemnon. Through it all, Patroclus is at Achilles's side, a loyal and courageous warrior in his own right, but in this book, Patroclus is demeaned and Achilles treats him like shit. So all right, the author at least mentions that they are lovers but it's almost like an afterthought. When Patroclus dies, it's so anti climatic and Brise is such a nasty woman with pettiness and stupidity to spare.
That brings me to the woman in this farce. I can't even. Hecube is like a dog? Andromaque won't say goodbye to Hector? Helen is a nymphomaniac with nice boobs? Kassandra foams at the mouth?
Jesus. Homer wrote this almost three thousand years ago and he was less sexist!
This was awful.
That's all folks. Song of Troy is, probably, the best recollection of the Trojan War I've read so far. Colleen McCullough, with her stupend writing and style, presents us with this book on a wellknown subject which, nevertheless, manages to keep the reader's interest from first page to last.
Colleen masterfully lays down the story of the most famous war of the ancient world, all the while bringing a new scope to the narrative, as each chapter is written through the eyes of a different character: the beautiful, but inconsequent, Helen of Sparta (later of Troy); Odysseus, a lesser King but a true genious; Priam, the old King of Troy; Achilles, the greatest warrior the world has ever seen; and Agamemnon, King of Greece, whose desire to win surpasses his respect for one of the most sacred principles.
By allowing the reader to penetrate deeper inside the mind of the main characters as the plot unfolds, the author gives us a new and original view of the events leading to and during the War. Despite the fact that the story is previously known by most, each development and twist is always surprising.
In a nutshell, an essential reading to those who have always been fascinated by this War caused by loveand, this time, without godly interventions and magical influences. I was moved to tears by this book, and felt ridiculous shedding them. I knew who would live and die, and exactly how it all turned out. That's McCullough's genius, though. She gives us all the little details, history books leave out, that make us feel for, and in some instances love, or hate a character. Everyone knows Odysseus was brilliant, but we don't think about how much that brilliance would have cost him. Achilles was brave, but he could have been sweet, kind and fair alongside his ruthless warring.
I love the way McC explains all the mythic/mystic mumbo jumbo with logical ideas that don't neccesarily negate the intervention of the Gods, just...leave room for another explanation. I have always been a fan of Greek and Roman mythology, and even as a child, I knew it wasn't true, but always felt the legends could have happened in just the way they were described...just with mortal manuevering, as opposed to immortal. She drives this point home, and is smart enough to explain things in a realistic way, without straying from the myth.
As I read, I would often be struck by how ruthless or cruel some act would seem. It was in perfect keeping with the time of the story, but because McC is so good at actually putting me IN her setting, I wouldn't realize how foreign it was until I was ready to stop reading. That's a great talent. Not only can she consistently suspend my disbelief, but she continually has me accepting, as the natural course of things, actions that would sicken me in life. She has me rooting for characters that commit acts I should find appalling, and relishing their acts of revenge that should actually be, not only disturbing, but down right disgusting.
I think this would be a great companion piece to The Iliad. I've read The Iliad, but know it can be intimidating and even dry for the young readers that are required to read it. If they were given this book as well, I think they would actually relish the experience of The Iliad. This book could never replace that classic, and I don't think that's what McC is going for. I think she is just trying to flesh out characters we have all heard of, but don't know well enough to care for. I fell in love with as many as I grew to hate. She certainly touched my heart and soul.
I was honestly shocked at just how nasty every character is portrayed by McCullough. I had no idea it would be this bad. Priam is a greedy powergrabber, Leda and Tyndareus are deceitful handwringers, Helen is a selfish sybarite, Diomedes is a pushy cad, Odysseus is a heartless bastard… It just goes on and on and on. I almost hated to pick the book up because I dreaded which awful person I was going to be forced to sit on the shoulder of this time. Oh, except Achilles. Saint Achilles can do no wrong. Okay, I admit that this is my new pet peeve. I’ve been reading a lot of Trojan War novels lately, and in 2018 in particular there have been a whole host of them released. It’s striking how many of them go for the saintly Achilles depiction. I am not a fan of it. At the bare minimum, it’s overused and tired by this point. A more brutally honest assessment would be that “Saint Achilles” is a deeply anachronistic portrayal that wants to apply modern values where they don’t belong. This paragon of virtue falls in love with and has a real romance with Briseis and despises slavery – ignoring the fact that the original Briseis, as a war captive, was indeed a slave, the loot of war to Achilles, who objects over Agamemnon taking her merely because the latter has wounded his masculine honour by stealing a possession that was his. I’ve had enough of Saint Achilles, but this book makes it worse by not only making him ‘perfect’ but by making everyone else detestable.
Other reviewers have it spot on when they point out that all the POV chapters have the same voice. There’s nothing to distinguish Priam’s chapters from Helen’s chapters from Odysseus’ chapters. In fact, if I put the book down in the middle of a chapter, and came back to it a few days later, I forgot who was supposed to be narrating.
Aside from character butchery and indistinguishable narrators, the book is written competently, which I suppose it earns points for, but I feel myself having short shrift with this book if that’s all it has to offer. Decent writing isn’t enough to save it from its problems. And the fact that it is a pedestrian, loweffort retelling of the Trojan War counts against it when it sits among a profusion of other Trojan War novels; some of them are admittedly worse, but many are better.
4 out of 10 rating: 4/5
A beautiful retelling of the Illiad. McCullough chooses to tell the tale through a variety of POVs (like Agamemnon, Hektor, Odysseus, Helen, Achilles, Paris, etc.) but it doesn't get confusing, whether it is my previous knowledge of the Illid or McCullough's writing style and strong characters filled with unique personalities (or a combination of both), I had no problem keeping track of the narrators. This style also enables us to see the conflict from all sides, to view all the characters as human with desires and flaws and heroism, which I think makes a grander tale.
Of course, as with every story there are a few issues, like Helen's instalove with Paris (of course McCullough can't be blamed). (view spoiler)[I had to explain it away that she was just a girl suffocating in her life and he offered to get her out, give her something more. (hide spoiler)] 4.5 stars
I was slow to get into this but once convinced it was my favourite version so far. I think most HF aficionados have favourite periods; I am willing to believe that, like me, they have the opposite about some periods. This is one of mine; I've read some of the classics around the story but the novels just don't attract me. It seemed a crazy event to me. However, CMcC managed to make it have logic as an eventit wasn't Helen after all but economic necessity, human nature and, to a degree, sheer perversity.
Some excellent characterisation and a wellestablished story line. Using her usual technique of moving from one POV to another, it was initially jarring to have it happen every chapter but I got into the swing and ended having really enjoyed it. I had tried Margaret George's Helen of Troy but never completed it. CMcC's selfcentred Helen was far more convincing. I note my favourite collective of Kate Quinn et al are putting out a version of this story this year; if that fails to please I will eat a few hats (need some new ones anyway!)
The Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough is a wonderful story that straddles Ancient Mythology and History. McCullough paints a vivid, complex, picture of the period, and all the actors involved in this mysterious period.
As she did in Masters of Rome, the author recreates the characters and makes them real – she gives them personalities, dramas and lives. I feel like I’ve just returned to the land of the living – this book caused me to ‘go missing’ for the last 4 or 5 days. It’s dense, thorough, slow moving but totally immersive.
The dramas start when Helen leaves her home in Ancient Mycenean Greece to go and live with her Trojan lover Paris. She leaves her husband King Menelaus, brother of King of Kings Agamemnon, to be with Paris – who later turns out to be a bit of a jerk. Menelaus and Agamemnon are mightily miffed by this development and decide to gather up the many Kings of Ancient Greece, create a flotilla of over a 1,000 ships and sail to what is now Western Turkey, to lay siege to the fortified town of Troy.
The King of Troy – Priam, Helen’s now fatherinlaw had his hands full for a decade as the Greek armies sat on the beaches, slowly strangling the life out of his wealthy city. By the way, Priam had over 50 sons and close to 20 daughters – one wonders how he found time to be king, but he did!
The battle scenes in this story are fantastic. More importantly, the suspenseful buildups for each battle were so tense I could hardly bear it. There were also some wonderful duels, such as the one between the Achilles and Hector, who were the two most feared warriors of the day.
Odysseus was perhaps my favourite character. He reminded me a lot of Sherlock Holmes, a bit of a smartarse (in a good, brainy way), he had an answer for everything and fought with his mind rather than his brawn. Helen was also a favourite, how could someone so beautiful not be? Poor Helen seemed to end up with idiots as lovers though, no wonder she was a bit lost.
Then, there’s The Horse. Enough said.
If you read this, be prepared to leave your family and friends for a few days, slap on your armour, jump in your chariot and be introduced to countless characters whilst cruising the beautiful waters of the Aegean Sea and lazing around the beaches South of the Dardanelles while you prepare for battle. You’ll love it.
I can’t get enough of McCullough’s historical fiction. I must give this one 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 – only because I prefer the Masters of Rome series and that’s more my thing. Less myth, more history.
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This is the story of the Iliad, retold by Colleen McCulough, one of the big and most meticulous historical fiction writers around.