One of my favorite historical fantasy books is The Firebrand, in which Kassandra spends parts of her youth in an Amazon tribe. I loved that book for what it was, a re-telling of the fall of Troy, but it left me wanting more Amazons. I was happy to stumble across The Lost Sisterhood.
I was a bit bothered that the author showed up on Goodreads and gave her own books (this one and Juliet) five-star reviews. I have never seen an author do that before and I find it incredibly tacky. But…Amazons! I borrowed it from the library anyway, because…Amazons!
Other reviewers have drawn comparisons to Dan Brown and that’s not inaccurate. That’s okay; I can live with that. Although Dan Brown is a very formulaic writer, I enjoyed The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons (but not Digital Fortress; that one is just plain terrible), so — so far, so good.
Then I came across things like:
“Climates change; that’s the way it has always been…it’s the big guy up there who calls the shots.”
“Being armed is not a privilege, my little ones. It is a duty.”
“…an environmental group. ..the usual brain-dead anticapitalist bullshit.”
“Why are we so eager to turn a beautiful myth into reality?” This from a museum curator!
And, as another reviewer pointed out, our heroine, a philologist, a student of antiquities, casually reads and handles a document that is thousands of years old while eating a wiener schnitzel. Seriously.
So, do our history- and archaeology-oriented characters just not science much, or does Fortier also write for the far right, or both?
I also have trouble with a heroine who is told she is going to Amsterdam but is instead taken to Algeria without her knowledge or consent, and whose phone and other valuable property is repeatedly kyped by the antagonistic but incredibly hot man of mystery with six passports, and who is then taken against her will to the ruins of Troy, and is then rescued and whisked off to Istanbul (and incidentally maneuvered into off-the-shoulder satin), but who just keeps being a good sport about all this deceptive and forceful removal of her autonomy, despite the fact she has a Ph.D and an Oxford career to get back to. It’s time for that particular romance trope to disappear along with the whole rapey thing. Women can fall in love without being abducted and held captive. Happens all the time. I’ve done it, more than once.
To be fair, there were things I liked, too:
“The queen is…[f]irst into the field, last to retreat. If all nations held their elected authorities to this basic principle of leadership, I guarantee you we would have significantly fewer wars in this world.”
“Only weak men want women to be weak.”
“A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.”
One plot hole left me confused: Myrina and her companions are accepted into the tribe of which Otrera is the High Priestess and which is already known to the Greeks as Amazones, but in another place the book references Myrina as founding the Amazons. Small point, but I’m picky about that stuff.
Fortier’s tale of Myrina and her companions’ acceptance by the Amazons pulled me in, and the parallel stories of Myrina and Diana were well done. The Amazon invention of the recurve bow for shooting from horseback was fun. I loved the lure of the Amazon Hoard, the lost treasure of Priam. I was intrigued by the promise of a Trojan War fought for gold instead of a woman, but that’s not where it went.
And that’s my biggest disappointment, the mishmash made of the fall of Troy. It’s not a re-telling with added depth or a new angle; it’s just muddying up one of the world’s oldest and best-loved tales. Characters’ relationships to each other are jacked around (for example, Helen becomes Agamemnon’s daughter, and do you really want to piss off Zeus by denying his paternity?), fates change, major players are diminished or smooshed together or recast or eliminated completely. While Helen didn’t instigate the events of Troy’s demise — and that demise was lame — she still managed to get a lot of people killed in what I thought was a “wtf” moment. I understand that fiction gives the writer license to play fast and loose with history and myth, but The Iliad is far too beloved for me to buy a Troy without Hector. The “Eleven Labors of Hercules” just doesn’t have the right ring. And who ever heard of Paris’ Heel?
It’s not a horrible book. It is a page-turner, and I did finish it, but I was not satisfied. I was hoping this would be the book that really just did the Amazons for me, but the opportunity to breathe life into figures such as Penthesilea and Hippolyta was wasted. I would have been much happier with a story about the Amazons, just the Amazons, with Troy making only a minor appearance, if any. But then, we wouldn’t have the DaVinci Code of the Hellespont. I know MZB has become a dirty word (and I’ll spare you my thoughts about charges brought against people who can’t answer because they’re dead), but I am left wanting the Amazon warrior book she would have written. Alas.
*wandering off to console myself with Xena: Warrior Princess*