Posted in Books, Fantasy, Reviews, Uncategorized

Book Review: Heroes – Stephen Fry

I’ve found myself living in Ancient Greece this past week, which is perhaps the best compliment that I can give to Stephen Fry’s works on Greek mythology.

For me, he has brought these stories and characters to life in a way that has had me transfixed and immersed in these pages almost to the exclusion of anything else in my life right now.

Heroes is a volume that can be read separately from it predecessor Mythos but one gets a much better experience with the former if you’ve read the latter. It shifts the focus away from the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus and on to the mortals (or fools) that dare to dream, that are in the possession of an incredible amount of self-belief (or hubris), and have the boldness, brawn and brute strength to accompany it.

Stephen Fry makes it very clear that the history and interrelatedness of the characters in Greek mythology are so tangled that one will simply go mad if one tries to memorise all the kings, queens, sons, daughters and, of course, incestuous unions and offsprings. He makes a valiant effort, though, to highlight and cross-reference important ones in what is undoubtedly my favourite part of this book and the last one: the footnotes. 

But I think that readers shouldn’t approach this book as they would an academic exercise. There is no requirement for you to recall who Heracles‘ father was, or to remember that he had a twin, for you to enjoy the tale of how he tricked Hades into lending him Cerberus, the literal hound of hell. The only fundamental requirement to reading this book is that you, as a reader, have every information you need to understand and enjoy these stories (and very helpfully, the book comes with a glossary to  help you with that).

Because believe me, this is a book with an extensive cast of characters, each of whom play a role one way or another in the events that unfold. There are a few standouts, apart from the heroes themselves. I found myself intrigued by the role that women played, or how they were portrayed and perceived in greek mythology. There is a hint of misogyny that is typical of that time period I suppose, but I’d like to think that Jason would never have gotten the golden fleece without Medea’s help, and that Theseus would still be stuck in the labyrinth were it not for Ariadne’s love and life-saving advice.

Some of the stories here will be familiar to readers. Like, who hasn’t heard of Icarus and his failure to follow his father’s advice to not fly too close to the sun? It’s like the mother of all cautionary tales. I think they teach it in school so that young impressionable minds will know from the get-go that there are consequences WHEN YOU DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR PARENTS.

The tale of Icarus, as well as that of the heroes in this volume, is also a testament to the saying that pride cometh before the fall. The gods seem to take a particular delight in punishing heroes when they overreach and overstep, perhaps out of jealousy but perhaps to remind them that whatever else they achieve, they are still in fact human.

And I guess that’s an important thing to remember when we talk about heroes. They are human just like us, and there’s two important things I’d like to point out in addition to that.

One, anyone can be a hero. Think about it, a hero is someone who finds himself under difficult circumstances and chooses to do something about it. We do that in our every day lives. For me, a nurse who stays beyond her shift in order to see to a trauma patient is just as much a hero as Perseus, and believe me, its easier to deal with Medusa and her hair of snakes than it is to placate a patient who’s been waiting in the busy A and E for four hours. 

The second thing is, perhaps, just something I’ve come to realise about us and our entire belief system. I’ve said this so many times before, that the saddest thing in the world is to see someone who’s lost the ability to dream and have hope. I think that’s why Hollywood (and Disney) have chosen to gloss over the more unsavoury parts of greek mythology’s so-called heroes. We don’t want to know about the tragic end to their stories, or that they weren’t the men we always thought they were when we placed them so high upon their pedestals.

I certainly don’t want my child to know that Mr. Zero to Hero Hercules (or Heracles, which is his proper name) killed Megara AND his two kids. Or that  Perseus and Jason were in fact considered murderers by many who knew them. That did not make it into the final cut of well-known movies, did it?

I think that the reason for that is because Hollywood and Disney recognise (and cater to) man’s innate need to believe in the extraordinary. We need to believe that somewhere out there are people who can rise to the occasion and rise above human flaws to fight the battles that we cannot fight. We will always need to believe in that, and for as long as we do, we will always need to believe in Heroes.

Great book and just as hilarious and entertaining as Mythos. Four out of five stars!

 

 

 

Posted in Books, Paranormal, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Silent – Elizabeth Hunter

You know a book is good when you wake up at 6am on a Saturday (your day off) to read it and then find yourself finishing in four hours.

This book is number 5 in The Irin Chronicles and tells the story of Leo, one of the Istanbul scribes and Kyra, one of the kareshta or silent ones. The kareshta are daughter of the Fallen, angels who have defied The Creator and made earth their own personal playground. Their lust for power among mortals led to their banishment from heaven. Most are evil creatures who do not teach their children how to control their magic. Their male offspring, called Grigori, become predators whose lust for any human contact frequently lead to deaths for any female they encounter. Grigori are turned into their sire’s soldiers and are helpless to resist their sire’s commands. The kareshta are not valued as much as the Grigori. Most are killed because they are considered worthless. Those that live have learned to be silent because their voices are part of the unknown and are therefore feared. 

At the end of the previous books, some of the Fallen have been reconciled to heaven leaving their sons and daughters free to live their lives for the first time. Most struggle to integrate into the Irin society because of the long, painful history they share. Some of the kareshta are mated with Irin scribes who have been deprived of any female contact for so long. Some try to live in the human world after they’ve been taught to control their ability to hear soul voices. Its againts this turbulent background that Leo and Kyra’s relationship is forged and tested. 

Leo and Kyra were part of the supporting characters in the previous books so its really hard to follow their story if you haven’t read the other books, I would never classify this as a standalone book because a reader who reads this first would be depriving themselves of a lot of history. That being said, I think this story is the start of a whole new series told about the sons and daughter of the Fallen. We learn so much about the Grigori here, and though they’ve done unspeakable and unforgivable things in their past we also get their backstory in this book. I think its so easy to hate something that you don’t understand, and that sentiment is very relevant in these troubled times we’re living in. So much violence stems from so little understanding that underneath all the differences, we are all the same.

A twist of fate and an unwanted inheritance is all that separates the Grigori from the Irin. This is the point that Kyra was trying to make when she was fighting for acceptance and integration into the community, rather than just tolerance. I think Elizabeth Hunter did a fantastic job of building this world and developing different narratives that she has easily set herself up for at least three more books in this world. I cannot wait for the Grigori to start falling in love. This is just me, I really like imperfect men who struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds to remain good.

The love story itself was also great but the romance alone would never have held this book up. It was an adventure from start to finish and the exotic locations make me think the Elizabeth must have gone on a trip to Southeast Asia in which case I hope she visited the Philippines. Dare I hope there will be a story set in my home country? One can dream.

Anyway, great story and a great addition to the series! Looking forward to whatever Elizabeth decides to write next.