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Troy: Lord Of The Silver Bow by David Gemmell

01/11/2005. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

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pub: Bantam Press. 475 page hardback. Price: 17.99 (UK). ISBN: 0-593-05219-6) (pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 476 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US). ISBN: 0-345-45835-4.

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It is fascinating the way things go in cycles. In the 1960s, Mary Renault and others set their novels in the classical world. For some time, this source of material has been out of fashion. Then suddenly, everyone is using the setting. Perhaps it began with the explosion of historical crime novels, a trend started by Ellis Peters and branching out into all periods of history. Maybe some writers have been influenced by the emphasis in teaching Greek and Roman studies in school, although this wouldn't explain the American participation in the trend. Perhaps, the idea of the Olympics returning to Athens has sparked the growing interest. Whatever the reason, Greeks in general and the Trojan Wars in particular are having a resurgence. The phenomenon must have had its gestation several years before it became noticeable to the general public as both books and films take time to produce and several years can elapse between inception and release. In the beginning of this cycle were the grand epic films of 'Troy' and later, 'Alexander'. Now there are the books. Dan Simmons had already had the first volume of his two book series, 'Ilium', published before this David Gemmell volume, 'Troy: Lord Of The Silver Bow'.

David Gemmell made his reputation with epic fantasy novels such as the 'Drenai' series and the adventures of Jon Shannow. One of his trademarks is the battle scene. In this book he does not disappoint. The grand fights are still there, observed in great detail. He also specialises in the older warrior. The man of experience who, perhaps, is nearing the end of his fighting career. This character is here, too, but not as much in the centre stage. An ageing Odysseus is the mentor of the central character, Helikaon.

Gemmell has long had an interest in classical history. His first ventures into this realm were in 'Lion Of Macedon' and 'Dark Prince'. Originally, he would have liked them to be straight historical novels but the pressures of the publishing world at the time meant that a magical element needed to be included. Thus, Gemmell's version of the story of Alexander the Great contained links to his earlier works. In 'Troy, Lord Of The Silver Bow', the historical content is very much in the foreground. The only slight touches of fantasy are the riddles of the Oracle at Delphi and Kassandra's prophetic visions which only manifested after a childhood illness.

The Lord of the Silver Bow is Aeneas, known to friends and enemies as Helikaon, the golden one. He is a warrior and a trader, a younger version of Gemmell's usual heroes. He lives in a world were treachery and death are common. His friend Odysseus is a sailor and a story-teller. The fantastic tales told of in Greek myth are here portrayed as inventions of Odysseus to entertain the sailors around a campfire at night. When Helikaon meets Andromache and transports her to Troy for her marriage to Hektor, he falls in love with her. Despite his cavalier attitude to many things, he is also an honourable man and they both know that she must keep her promise to wed King Priam's son.

In this volume, which is touted as the first in a trilogy, Gemmell has cut through the grand myths surrounding Troy and drawn on historical knowledge to create a world of warring factions from small kingdoms all around the Mediterranean (referred to as the Great Green by the characters). He has put a historical perspective on legendary events by asking the question: what was it really like to live in that time? The answer he has given us is a blood-thirsty saga of politics, betrayal, heroism, love and tragedy. Gemmell has been accused of writing action at the expense of characterisation. Although this is true in part, what he has successfully done is portray a world which is very believable. It is authoritative enough to make the reader believe that this could be the real interpretation of events that lie behind the embellished epic that has come down from the old story-tellers. It is worth remembering that entertainment in the days of Troy was often bardic and the tales would have been embellished to the merit of the heroes before Homer got round to writing them down.

Pauline Morgan

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