Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hades' Daughter by Sarah Douglass

I rarely have the pleasure of being so caught up in a book, so entrapped by its characters, that I fail to notice the steadily increasing pile of laundry on the floor, or dust that is accumulating past an inch. But this book did, with its heady blend of Greek and Celtic mythology, its factual references to many customs of the 11th century BCE, and its sprinkling of fantasy - just enough to claim the world as the author's own.

The characters are refreshing. Brutus, a headstrong descendant of Aeneas (founder of Rome), Cornelia, a proud child princess who is only looking for affection, to the darkwitch Genvissa, descendant of Ariadne, the original Priestess of the Labyrinth. I alternated between wanting to smack all of them for misbehaving, and cry during their desperate struggle. Good and evil are often very hard to define here, and all of the characters have their moments, where it is clear that they are only trying to do what is best for their land and their people (though some more at the expense of others). But where Douglass shines at fleshing out her characters, be forewarned that she is also ruthless with them. By mid-book, I knew not to be too firmly attached to any of them. Yet the snippets of happiness thrown in, made me eagerly press on, hoping for that happy ending.

If you are familiar with the myth of Ariadne, Theseus and the minotaur of Crete, you will jump right into the story. Ariadne has already helped Theseus at the expense of her family. Now pregnant and jilted, the book opens with Theseus sailing away with his new lover, and Ariadne seeking revenge by making a pact with Asterion, the minotaur. But this story isn't about Ariadne. It is about the result of her pact, and successive generations of her bloodline and their struggles, as well as those around them, to keep their land from dying. It is also the story of Brutus, determined to found New Troy on the land of once peaceful Mag and Og's domain. It is about his struggle through the Mediterranean and across the waters, and affect everyone and everything he touches, and not necessarily in a good way.

Douglass has done her research well. She throws in details familiar to many ancient historians, from the topless Minoan young women where women rule as honored priestesses, to the matriarchal society of Albion where women ask the goddess for a child and are beholden to no man. Then there are their manly neighbors who ride naked into battle, painted black and blue and cause chaos and destruction in their wake, treating women no better than chattel.

It's clear the story isn't finished with this first installment, and there are three books to go. It's also a story that leaves the reader eagerly wanting to know what happens to the characters, and who will win in the end, and I look forward to the second installment.

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