Reviews

Troy by Adele Geras

troy by adele geras

# of Pages: 357

Time it took me to read: 4 days

# of pages a day to finish in a week: 51

Rating: 4 out of 5

The war between the Greeks and the Trojans has been going on for ten years. The citizens of Troy are besieged in their own walls and everyone from the lowliest servant to the king himself is hungry and tired, ready for the war to be at its end. And though there is no one inside the walls that isn’t affected by the war, sisters Marpessa and Xanthe have other problems of their own. Marpessa is a servant dear to Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, while Xanthe is nursemaid to Astyanax, son of Andromache and Hector, crown prince and hero of Troy.

One day while Xanthe helps tend to the wounded soldiers, she is unable to escape Eros’ arrow and falls hard for Alastor, one of her patients. And that moment, while it may not change the outcome of the war, will change the lives of both sisters and many others just trying to get through each day as the Trojan war goes on and on.

 

When my friend Emily handed me this book in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, I knew instantly that I couldn’t leave the store without buying it. I am a huge fan of the Greek classics, you know, Iliad and Odyssey and Athenian tragedy. I’ve been to Greece twice now, it’s my favorite country ever. Anyway, whenever I see any sort of book in the YA section that has anything to do with Greek mythology, I’m sold before I even read the blurb. A book called Troy, when my favorite myth is the Trojan War? Yeah, I actually don’t even think I read what it was about before purchasing it.

I can basically rant for a hundred years about the tragic death of the Greco-Roman classics. Years ago, in the 20th century, the classics were required reading material for most schools. Basically everyone had read at least the Odyssey, if not the Iliad and maybe even some Aeschylus and Euripides. But nowadays? Squat. And it’s a damn shame because the classics are still important and relatable, and if you get good translations, not even that difficult to read. I’m convinced the only reason we read Shakespeare still but not the Iliad is because Shakespeare is shorter.

But onto the book. The initial thing that I liked so much about it was that it wasn’t as predictable as I thought it was going to be, and that is because the author did something really smart. She made up her own characters. Sure, these characters were servants to heroes like Hector and Paris and Helen, characters that most know the fate of, if you know the story of the Trojan war at all, but Xanthe and Marpessa? They’re not in the myth, you don’t know what is going to happen to them. So the lack of predictability was a big win for me.

I also liked the approach that she took to the classic characters. That’s one of my favorite things about this trope, the personalities of these famous characters totally depend on where the writer’s “sympathies” lie: with the Trojans or with the Greeks. If you’re a Trojan, Achilles is a monster, but if you’re a Greek, he’s your hero. And even with that, you can write Helen as petty or even villainous, or you can write her in a more sympathetic fashion, like Geras chooses to here. But she’s not totally sympathetic, in fact I think she is actually one of the more complex side characters in this story.

Which brings me to another aspect of this story that I liked a lot: the side characters. There a lot of characters in this story, some of them more important or complex than others, but all of them very present in the story. Polyxena, for example, is a character that I liked a lot, though she was little more than a two-dimensional plot device. She was an important two-dimensional plot device, but not particularly complex. Not like Helen and Andromache. This book was very heavily centered on the women of Troy, which earned many thumbs up from me, because too often these kinds of books are focused on the men, the warriors. Which does make sense, to be fair, because this is a story about a war.

Okay, now to my criticisms. The gods were very involved in this book, in a way that I thought was interesting, but was a bit overused. The gods (every single one besides Demeter and Hestia), kept showing up to mortals in the story and telling them important things, but then the characters would forget them every time (except Marpessa, who has the power to recognize the gods when she sees them). I think that it was a very good concept, but I think it was overused. And the gods appeared way, way, way too many times to inconsequential characters like the three kitchen gossips of the palace. And while I get that it was used to convey important information to the reader that couldn’t really be conveyed in a different way, I still say it was kind of useless for the gods to keep popping in, revealing stuff, and then having the characters forget about the whole interaction.

My other criticism is a little nitpicky thing, but I’m very fussy about my dialogue. As a writer, I spent a long time learning how to write effective dialogue that sounds like real people talking. When I was in school, that was one of the main critiques I gave to my fellow writing students: your dialogue has to sound organic. And in some places in this book, it was a little stiff. Some may argue that it was just a more formal style, but I would say that there is a difference between writing your dialogue in a more formal style and having it be stiff. The dialogue wasn’t consistently “formal” enough for it to be on purpose, so I think that if I had been this author’s editor, I would have circled at least ten spots in this book where the dialogue could have been worked. But again, it didn’t take away much from the book, I just noticed it because it’s a pet peeve of mine.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think that anyone who read this book would certainly have a respect for the classics, if they didn’t already, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who loves Homer. I’m going to recommend below a few of my absolute favorite historical fiction pieces, if anybody else is interested in that sort of thing.

If you liked Troy, try: The Song of Achilles by Madilene Miller

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

And I Darken by Kiersten White

Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

 

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