As Lewis Carroll’s Alice so aptly points out, What is the use of a book‚ without pictures or conversations?
Welcome to RA Crossroads, where books, movies, music, and other media converge, and whole-collection readers’ advisory (RA) service goes where it may. In this column, mythic tales of the Amazons lead me down a winding path.
Fortier, Anne. The Lost Sisterhood. Ballantine. Mar. 2014. 608p. ISBN 9780345536228. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780345536235. F
This dual story tracks the modern-day quest of Diana Morgan, an Oxford scholar caught in a high-stakes game to uncover the secrets of the Amazons and the lost treasures of Troy. Paralleling Diana’s search is the journey and blossoming of Myrina, a girl who will one day lead the Amazons. Myrina steps onto this path when the son of King Agamemnon abducts many of her sisters, after he and a marauding band desecrate and rob their temple. Myrina’s pursuit of rescue heads her in the direction of Mycenae, where with the aid of Paris and Aeneas she saves her sisters and liberates Helen. Thousands of years later, Diana traces Myrina’s journey from scattered clues found on temple walls, shards of stone, and ancient texts. Shadowing her every move are diverse forces set to stop her—or beat her to the horde. Some of these powers have murderous intent. Others have a 3,000-year-old history and lineage to protect. Author Fortier interweaves both stories with a quick and lively hand, creating a strong sense of mystery and movement by jumping between each narrative at moments of parallel crisis. Both story lines are immersive and engaging and satisfying in fun and evocative ways, for example, the Iliad is turned on its head and the usual male-dominated action quest/treasure hunt is led by a realistic female scholar. Fortier’s tale of battles, rescues, secrets, and treasures offers a neat mix of Indiana Jones meets Dan Brown on the plains of Troy and in the halls of Oxford.
Howe, Katherine. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Hyperion. 2010. 384p. ISBN 9781401341336. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401394431. F
Fortier’s novel revolves around a captivating question: What is the secret history of the Amazons? Howe’s novel orbits an equally intriguing one: What if there really were witches in Salem, MA? Set in the Bay State, during the dark years of both the 1692 witch trials and the 1990s, Howe’s novel intertwines the stories of Deliverance Dane, a woman accused—with some merit—of being a sorceress, and Connie Godwin, a Harvard PhD candidate in history. The two women connect through Connie’s grandmother, who, though long dead, has left a literal key in her moldering ivy-covered home. Locating and deciphering the key set Connie on a quest that uncovers a hidden past and reveals a surprising future.
Mosse, Kate. Labyrinth. Berkley. 2007. 528p. ISBN 9780425213971. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781101205716. F
This quest for the Holy Grail intimately links two women over the span of centuries in Mosse’s compelling and intricately plotted novel that should please fans of Fortier’s work with its similar mix of dual stories, action, and history. In 2005, while on an archaeological dig in France, Alice Tanner finds a cave protecting the remains of two skeletons: one wears a ring with a labyrinth pattern carved within it. In 13th-century France, Alais, the daughter of a guardian of the Holy Grail, is given a sacred book containing some of the holy relic’s secrets; she is also given a ring. By finding the cave and holding both book and ring, Alice and Alais are each placed in grave danger, separated by time but caught in the same centuries-old quest to claim the power of the Grail.
Neville, Katherine. The Eight. Ballantine. 2004. 624p. ISBN 9780345419088. pap. $16. F
Historical adventure and mythic quest combine in Neville’s addictive mix of chess, secrets, and parallel stories. In the 1970s, computer expert Catherine Velis travels to Algiers where she learns of a mythical chess set once owned by Emperor Charlemagne, a set that holds infinite power and has been sought for centuries; a game that is seemingly still being played. In the 1790s, a novice from the Montglane Abbey, Mireille, is faced with the dangerous task of keeping the chess pieces safe by hiding them, while multiple figures of the French Revolution seek the set’s power. Twisty, complex, and suspenseful, Neville’s smart and sweeping novel should please fans of Fortier looking for more tales of intrepid women caught in the coils of conspiracy and the hunt for treasure.
Bradley, Marion Zimmer. The Firebrand. ROC. 2003. 608p. ISBN 9780451459244. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101028889. F
Fortier fans in the mood for more stories about the battle of Troy and who enjoyed the feminist point of view of her novel may also enjoy Bradley’s take on the period. Centering on Kassandra, Paris’s prophesying twin sister, Bradley deftly plumbs ancient lore, detailing the destruction of Troy while at the same time creating a new history. In her version, Kassandra is fostered by Penthesilea, the Amazon Queen, and is introduced to the ancient religion of the goddess. However, she is eventually returned to her family and begins training as a priestess to Apollo. Torn between the old female gods and the dominion of the male deities, Kassandra struggles to find a place and fights to be heard. Finding her voice and devoting her life to the female gods of old, she eventually leaves the bloody remnants of Troy behind as she seeks a new path.
Gemmell, David. Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow. Ballantine. (Troy, Bk. 1). 2006. 496p. ISBN 9780345494573. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780345486080. SF/FANTASY
Readers who want more details about the Trojan War can turn to Caroline Alexander’s outstanding The War That Killed Achilles: The True Story of Homer’s Iliad and the Trojan War. However, for readers who would rather experience Homer’s epic in much the way Fortier made use of it—as a handy launch pad—suggest Gemmell’s finely crafted and lushly imagined trilogy, beginning with this story focused on Prince Aeneas—a great warrior allied to Troy. In the opening book, Gemmell sets a fast pace as he pits Aeneas against a slew of enemies and thrusts him into the company of the priestess Andromache, a woman evoking Myrina’s warrior spirit and more than a match for any who might claim her hand.
Pressfield, Steven. Last of the Amazons. Bantam. 2003. 416p. ISBN 9780553382044. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780553897715. F
Fortier’s book might leave many readers longing for more tales of the Amazons, as for all of the focus on Myrina, her adventures are more muted than those of Diana. Such readers might enjoy Pressfield’s action-packed account of Antiope, the Queen of the Amazons, and her love affair with Theseus, King of Athens, whom she eventually marries. When Antiope abandons the Amazons to journey with Theseus to Greece, she sets in motion a war that will ravage her people—for her Amazon lover, Eleuthera, spurned by Antiope’s decision, gathers the armies of the Amazons and follows the Queen, attacking and laying siege to Theseus’s kingdom. The detail-rich and atmospheric story that unfolds through Pressfield’s ever-capable hands is gripping and multilayered, resplendent with war and romance, myth and history, honor and violence.
Warrior Princess Anthology. 54 discs. color. 6,312+ min. Mark Beesley & Eric Brevig, Davis-Panzer Merchandising, www.legendaryheroes.com. 2005. DVD UPC 013131318395. $129; streaming available. FANTASY
While Myrina does not necessarily evoke comparisons to Xena, those who remember the television series might connect the dots. Readers who have yet to encounter the TV show might similarly find the echoes between Myrina and the warrior princess interesting and pleasing. The six-season series followed the continuing adventures of Xena and Gabrielle (who eventually joins the ranks of the Amazons) as they travel the world of Ancient Greece helping those in need as Xena tries to redeem her wrathful past. Along the way, they crisscross many historical and mythological plotlines—including the fall of Troy. Quickly paced and full of action, the series obtained cult status during its heyday. For readers wishing to remain a bit longer in an amped-up version of Myrina’s world, Xena makes a worthy companion.