Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Warren Dean's review

The following is Warren Dean's review of Agamemnon Must Die, reproduced from Goodreads (link) with his permission.

***




This is the story of what happens when King Agamemnon returns from the Greek conquest of Troy.

For ten years, his queen Clytemnestra has been nursing her hatred of Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia at the beginning of the Trojan campaign. In her husband's long absence, she has taken his cousin Aigisthos as her consort. Aigisthos loves her unconditionally and is easily persuaded to help her kill the king.

After the deed is done, the story becomes that of Orestes, son of Agamemnon and heir to the throne. Honour and tradition require him to avenge himself on his father's killers, but is it really in his nature to do so?

In this re-telling of the tale, all of the characteristics of Greek tragedy are faithfully preserved. Mortal heroes and heroines struggle to reconcile lofty ambitions, innate character flaws, and the dictates of love, while immortal gods and goddesses manipulate them to further their own schemes and petty squabbles.

However, that is not all there is to the novel; the central storyline is overlaid with subtle facets which engage the reader on different levels. For example, Aigisthos' backstory makes him a noble character whose motives the reader can sympathise with. And Orestes' inner struggle is what makes him susceptible to Apollo's attempts to coerce him to act contrary to his nature.

The supernatural element of the story is prefaced by some of the mortals openly questioning society's belief in the literal existence of the gods. This gives the reader an insight into what motivates the likes of Apollo, Hermes, and the Furies to compel mortals to do their bidding. The gods' very existence is at stake; if the values and traditions that define them are abandoned, they themselves will fade into oblivion.

This theme culminates in an enthralling debate between the Furies, who want to maintain the power of the gods, and Athena, who wants to end the cycle of violence begun by Agamemnon's murder of his own daughter. Athena's stance is a fascinating one; in proposing to supplant the supreme authority of the gods with the rule of law, she is advocating her own eventual demise. The Furies' make an apposite observation in response: "This is too new for us. We grasp not the reason nor the desired outcome. Do you think to make men good by enacting more laws?"

Good question.

Good story.

(I received a free copy of this story in exchange for an honest, non-reciprocal review.)

***


I have reproduced the review exactly as written, not only because Warren thinks it is worth four stars out of five, but also for his reaction to the ending of the book--the "supernatural element," the debate between the new gods and the old, the Olympians versus the Fates. This occupies almost all of the last third of Aeschylus' trilogy. It was for him and fifth century B.C. Athens a vital debate.

It was also the hardest to write/retell. Nothing happens; it is a long argument. I chose to write this confrontation in verse with the Olympians speaking in a different meter from the Fates. I imagine that usually eyes glaze at this point. A debate between the new morality and the old, the new set of beliefs that make sense of life versus the old. 

How refreshing that a reviewer finds this "an enthralling debate"!

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