Page 45 Review by Stephen
Now in full colour.
"I saw a ship sailing far out on the water - too far to turn back. It carries a man - a boy, really - who burns with a flame that will consume all he touches. A woman rides with him. She is proud and beautiful
but where she treads, death follows."
First of seven award-winning volumes interpreting the story of Troy most famously propagated by Greek poet Homer. They are bursting with passion, epic in scope and astonishingly rich in detail.
Visual detail comes in the form of beautifully delineated bodies clothed in meticulously researched period clothing and gently nuanced expressions, all of which I'd compare to P. Craig Russell (SANDMAN: DREAM HUNTERS, FAIRY TALES OF OSCAR WILDE etc.) as inked by Art Adams. i.e. Thin, crisp lines but with a far softer touch. There is, however, no clutter at all, the panels composed in a joyous variety of forms all of which are thoroughly accessible to newcomers. There is nothing too tricksy and, in spite of the scope, nothing extraneous nor laborious. It is what they call "a real-page turner".
It opens in the pastoral calm of the verdant cow-grazing pastures not far from the city of Troy. There young Paris awakes from a dream, about which we will learn only later, to find messengers demanding the family's highly prized bull for King Priam of Troy's next Festival Games. Determined to be the one to sacrifice the bull to the gods, Paris persuades his father to take him to the Games but discovers, after victory in a race, that his real father is King Priam himself. Priam embraces his long-lost son and Paris' new brothers, formally hostile during the competition, all rally round.
Alas, aging King Priam is still smarting from Herakles' sacking of Troy when he was but a child. It was then that his older sister Hesione was taken and given to the King of Salamis. Now that Troy has been rebuilt, Priam sends envoys demanding her return and although Hesione claims to be perfectly happy where she is, Priam suspects against all evidence to the contrary that she may have said so under duress. His sons suggest war, but they are too young to know war's terrible cost and wisely King Priam rebuffs them. But when Paris suggests a stealthy raid instead, Priam likes the idea and dispatches Paris along with Aeneas to call on King Menelaus of Sparta first, in order to gain his support and so test recent treaties.
And this is where. It goes horribly. Wrong.
Although brother Hektor attempts to impress upon the inexperienced Paris (but four months at court) the complexity of the current geographical and so commercial context of this already dodgy endeavour, Paris' eyes already blaze with a much greater ambition than the task he's been given. So it is that when Paris lands and spies King Menelaus' wife Helen of Sparta, he determines to make her his Helen of Troy.
The seduction sequence is breath-taking. Told in retrospect, Shanower repeats a single panel of Menelaus' warning "Do you know what he's here for?" over and over again, even though, ironically, Menelaus hasn't the first fucking clue.
Dramatic irony abounds throughout, even for a modern reader. For although today we may not take oracles or horoscopes seriously, we know well enough to trust their eventual unfolding in Greek literature. As to the ancient Greeks - both the cast and the story's original readership - they believed fervently. They believed so fervently that Menelaus' older brother Agamemnon, leading the multinational retaliation for Helen's abduction, risks his army's starvation in order to wait for Achilles to show his girl-disguised face because only with Achilles on board, it is foretold, will Troy be left burning in ruins. Shame no one listens to the women, then, (same as it ever was) in this case both Kassandra and Helenus. They're pretty prescient and very, very specific.
As to the prophecies surrounding Achilles, they open up a whole new can of calamari
Every library should have one. Or two. Or three. School libraries should be a little cautious when it comes to younger readers because this isn't some simplistic white-wash and there are scenes both of a sexual nature and of child-birth.
It's one of the very best treatments of Homer I've read (although please do see Gareth Hinds' THE ODYSSEY - especially schools, you're on safer ground there) and far more than a mere adaptation but an integration of so many different sources - often conflicting - as Shanower details in the extensive resources in the back. It is, in short, the version Shanower wants to tell, in considerable depth and with exceptionally keen judgement.
It's also a lot more fun than my old classics lessons aged 12 when I was forced to translate and study the original. The original is fab, but translating passages aged 12 before reading them outloud in front of your class and a very "volatile" headmaster was far from fun.
Still, I did learn the origin of words like "euphemism".