Tag Archives: Greece

The Real Wonder Woman – guest post by Emily Hauser, author of For the Winner

Last month, Transworld published For the Winner by Emily Hauser. This is a fabulous novel – an interpretation of the Jason and the Golden Fleece myth that focuses on the extraordinary and unusual story of Atalanta, a female Argonaut. I’m delighted to host a guest post by Emily on an irresistible subject – ‘The Real Wonder Woman’.

For the Winner by Emily HausnerThe Real Wonder Woman

I went to see Wonder Woman in the cinema a few weeks ago. I loved it. It was brilliant. But as I watched the astonishing feats of the Amazons – named after a mythical tribe of warrior women first mentioned in an ancient Greek epic over 2,500 years ago – I thought that the fantasy powers granted to them in the film paled into insignificance when compared to the achievements of the real Amazons, the real Wonder Women of the ancient world.

As a scholar of the ancient world and an author of historical fiction, it’s my job to bring those real, powerful ancient women back into the foreground.

One of these Wonder Women of antiquity was Atalanta, an extraordinary woman and a warrior who lived over three thousand years ago in ancient Greece, not far from modern-day Thessaloniki. She was a self-taught warrior, the fastest runner in the world, one of the best archers of her time, and the only woman, according to history, to accompany Jason and the Argonauts on the legendary voyage of the Golden Fleece. And it’s the story of this extraordinary warrior – a Wonder Woman before her time – that I set out to tell in the second novel of the Golden Apple trilogy, For the Winner (Transworld 2017).

Atalanta is in many ways a forerunner of the character of Diana in DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. She was a formidable fighter, one of the greatest heroes of her generation, and yet she struggled to gain recognition and credibility as a woman. She was abandoned by her father, who (in Atalanta’s case) cast her out on a mountain to die because he had wanted a son and heir. She was a devotee of the goddess Artemis – the Greek goddess of the hunt who later, in the Roman world, would be called Diana.

But what I love most about Atalanta is that, in contrast to today’s Wonder Woman, she is entirely human. She does not need to rely on superpowers or her birthright as the daughter of a god to vanquish her enemies. Her strength comes from her own determination, her own training, her own will to survive. She fights in battles alongside heroes like Hercules and Theseus. She earns her place on the voyage with Jason and the Argonauts and travels to the ends of the earth, disguised as a man – and when she is discovered and exiled in the wildnerness, she refuses to give up. When she returns to Greece and her father – having recognised her at last – wants to force her to marry, she will only do so on her own terms. She demands that the man she will wed should outrun her in a footrace – which she believes will be impossible, until she makes a fatal mistake… And as Atalanta is forced to make a choice during that final footrace that will change her life forever, we see not only her strength, but also her courage as she faces all the odds and… you’ll have to read For the Winner to find out what happens next!

Wonder Woman is, without a doubt, a brilliant and necessary demonstration of the power of a female lead who does not need a man to survive; a woman who can fight as well as – if not better than – a man.

But the ancient Greeks got there first.

For the Winner
For the Most Beautiful

For the Most Beautiful by Emily HauserGiveaway!
The giveaway has now closed and the winners have been contacted.

The publisher has kindly given me signed copies of For the Winner and its predecessor For the Most Beautiful to give away here and/or on Twitter. If you’d like to go into the hat, just let me know which you’d like in the comments below or retweet the post on Twitter, again saying which you’d like to go for. The deadline is this Friday (7 July) at 4pm (UK and Ireland entries only – sorry about that.).


For the Winner by Emily Hauser

Doubleday | 2017 (15 June) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

For the Winner by Emily HausnerWhen King Iasus of Pagasae ordered his newborn daughter to be exposed on the frozen rocks of Mount Pelion, he set in motion a series of events that not only threatened his own kingdom’s future but also the peace and order of the gods themselves. The baby, with only a medallion around her neck to hint at her true heritage, was rescued and adopted by a woodcutting man and his wife but, as the girl grew into a woman, it became increasingly clear to the family that loved her that Atalanta was destined for a great future. On learning the truth, having committed an extraordinary feat of daring and skill, Atalanta is determined to prove herself to the father who discarded her like rubbish on the mountainside.

Atalanta learns that King Iasus has sent his nephew Jason on a formidable yet glorious mission – to sail with a band of Greek heroes aboard the Argo to claim the legendary Golden Fleece from the distant land of Colchis. His reward will be the kingdom of Pagasae. But Atalanta is determined to win that throne for herself. And to do that this formidable young woman must earn a place among the Argonauts and steal the Golden Fleece for herself. But this is no mortals’ game. The gods watch the affairs of men from the blissful gardens and pools of Olympus and they are more than ready to take sides. Each of them has a favourite; the rest must suffer the tempests of divine disfavour. But even the gods can’t have everything their own way. For the winner, the stakes will be very high indeed.

In For the Winner, Emily Hausner once again returns to the pre-classical world of Greek myth and legend. This is the age of heroes and mighty quests, when gods walked the earth and meddled in the affairs of men, and centaurs and other strange creatures did their bidding. In her last novel For the Most Beautiful, Emily Hausner portrayed the Trojan War, focusing on the women, both divine and mortal, who steered its course. In For the Winner it’s the story of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest to steal the Golden Fleece. But once again, Hausner examines a well-known legend from an unusual and female perspective, this time focusing on Atalanta, one of the lesser known Argonauts but an extraordinary woman of her time.

Much of the novel follows Atalanta on her adventures with the Argonauts and it’s an astonishing tale of larger-than-life heroes and their mighty ambition. The ultimate affront is a woman daring to pretend to be a man to sail with them. Their outrage can be nothing but calamitous. But Atalanta is a woman set on her course, in pursuit of justice and vengeance, and she will endure whatever obstacles the gods put in her path. And there are plenty of those. Throughout the novel are chapters which take us to the playworld of the gods and what a capricious bunch of gods they are. But in this novel, their scheming is held in check by the influence of Iris, one of the ‘lesser’ yet undoubtedly powerful gods, who also has her eye on Atalanta.

I wasn’t sure about how well the gods worked as a device in the previous novel For the Most Beautiful. But I have no such concerns with For the Winner, possibly due to the extremely successful and calming influence of Iris, who serves as an effective bridge between the mortal and the divine. They still have comic value but it’s not overpowering and I thoroughly enjoyed these diversions – I particularly liked Zeus. King of the gods he might be, but somebody needs to tell the other gods.

For the Winner isn’t a novel about Jason and the Golden Fleece, it’s about Atalanta. I enjoyed the glimpses we’re given of Jason’s cruel character and I was gripped by the scenes aboard the Argo (and did wish that we saw something of Medea), but our attention stays with Atalanta and she deserves it. She’s a woman of her age, fighting against it, but she’s also easy for us to empathise with. But it’s wonderful how Emily Hauser brings alive this Bronze Age world of ancient Greece, with its walled towns and rural settlements, its sea passages and its fundamental beliefs in the gods and fates. Women, obviously, don’t fare too well, barely treated better than slaves, and so Atalanta’s story is all the more extraordinary and powerful. We’re behind her on every stage of her perilous journey.

Emily Hausner is a classics scholar and clearly knows her subject, bringing the time and its people and places to life, but she also writes beautifully. This is immersive writing, marvellously descriptive and evocative, and the voyage itself is thrilling from the outset. The dialogue and narrative feels natural yet reminiscent in some ways of the great classics, particularly Homer, but it isn’t laboured. It feels right. I enjoyed For the Most Beautiful but For the Winner is a great step forward – an elegant, exciting and in some ways moving story of Atalanta’s adventure to steal back her fate from man and gods.

Other review
For the Most Beautiful

For the Most Beautiful – an interview with author Emily Hauser

For the Most Beautiful by Emily HauserThis week, Doubleday publishes the really rather gorgeous debut novel by Emily Hauser, For the Most Beautiful – a memorable account of the Trojan War, written from the point of view of not only some of the leading women caught in the conflict but also of the gods themselves. You can read my review here. I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour to celebrate the publication, which gave me the perfect excuse to put some questions to Emily. Here Emily talks about her inspiration for the novel, her different take on the Trojan War, the role of the gods in this human story, the challenges of writing historical fiction and the writers that have influenced her. Thanks so much to Emily for taking the time to answer my questions.

Congratulations on For the Most Beautiful, I read it in a single day – a captivating read! What inspired you to write about the legend of Troy and, out of all the characters available, why did you choose to focus on the two women, Krisayis and Briseis?

Thank you so much! The inspiration for For the Most Beautiful came during a class at Yale, when we were asked to read Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, a re-telling of Homer’s Odyssey from Penelope’s point of view, and I thought, “Why has nobody done this for the Iliad?” I was instantly drawn to re-telling the story of Troy from the female perspective because it’s a story we so often associate with men – Achilles, Odysseus, Hector, and all the other heroes of Homer’s Iliad – and I wanted to change that, to bring the women to the fore. Few people actually realise that there are in fact two women who are absolutely crucial to the action: Briseis, princess of Pedasus, and Krisayis (spelled Chryseis in the Iliad), daughter of the High Priest of Troy. Their capture, and the argument between Achilles and Agamemnon that erupts over their return, sets off the entire chain of events that becomes the Iliad of Homer. I wanted to show that there is more to this legendary war than just the battle exploits of the male heroes – that, in fact, these two women were at the very heart of the action, and that it was their choices and their intrigues and relationships that really brought about the siege and fall of Troy.

The fall of Troy is a well-known story. How did you make your version of it feel fresh and different?

I think the fact that so few people are aware of the stories of Briseis and Krisayis meant that I could bring a very new perspective to the age-old story of Troy. I really focused in my retelling on exploring the inner lives of my characters – I have endless character sheets, sketches and maps of their story arcs – so that, hopefully, the two women really leap off the page, and readers can really identify with them and their stories. I wanted to bring them alive, to show that people in Bronze Age Troy really weren’t as different from us as we think they were. I believe that there are traits we share, as human beings, across time – love, passion, violence, the search for meaning – and it is these timeless themes that I tried to bring to life through my characters as I wrote.

The novel contains an intriguing mix of ancient history and fantasy. How difficult was it to make this world feel real while still keeping its almost magical air of mystery and myth?

Interestingly, it was only at the moments of intersection and cross-over between the mortal and immortal worlds that this became a challenge. Originally I intended the gods and the humans to stay quite separate, so that the realm of the gods on Mount Olympus, with its fantastical cloud-palaces and ambrosia-eating divinities, could exist quite happily apart from the real, bloody, war-torn humans of the Trojan plain. But as the novel progressed I could see the mortals and the gods coming closer and closer together, and I knew that eventually they would have to meet. The challenge was simultaneously to bring alive for the reader that ancient unquestioning belief in the gods that the Trojans would have felt, as almost a permanent, geological part of the landscape, at the same time as conveying the sense of shock and disjunction which the characters must have naturally felt when those two worlds collide. For me, it was the small markers of human physicality which were useful for making this separation: on Olympus, for example – as in Homer – the gods cannot eat human food. Back on the mortal plane, I tried to give as much detailing of physical objects as I could – clay pots, lamps, bronze cauldrons, woollen skirts – to create a sharp and tangible contrast with the sheer, cloud-like immateriality of the Olympian realm.

The novel doesn’t just focus on mortals, but also on the gods. Why did you choose to include the gods as characters?

You know, the gods weren’t originally a part of the book, but after writing a few chapters I realised that they had to be there. The first reason is a very simple one – that they’re a major part of Homer’s epic, and, more importantly, of his world. Although many modern authors who have reworked the Iliad have chosen to omit the gods – Simon Armitage’s The Last Days of Troy is a notable exception – I felt that the gods were so central to Homer, as well as to the Greeks and Trojans and their view of their world, that to omit them would be to miss half of what the legend of the Trojan War is about.

Then, of course, there are the reasons which critics and scholars often cite with reference to the Iliad: first, the contrast between the mortal and immortal planes; and, second, the necessary relief which the scenes on Olympus provide. In a story filled with war, death and loss, in which my protagonists suffered terrible traumas from witnessing their husbands killed before their eyes to being faced with near-rape, I found that the gods provided an important break in the relentless narrative march towards the inevitable sack of Troy. Moreover, the contrast between their frivolous immortal existence on Olympus and the deep emotions and attachments forged by their human counterparts serves – at least I hope it does – to throw the fears and losses endured by mortals into a sharper and more poignant relief. The immortals play their trivial games with human fate, but they never quite understand the importance of mortality and a sense of urgency of being alive – all these things that lead us to have passions, emotions, love – that make life worth living.

Considering how the gods misused humans, could Paris have made any other choice?

That’s a really interesting and important question. It is, in fact, something which lies at the heart of my second book, For the Winner, so I won’t say too much – except that I think that it depends on if you think the gods are able to understand human desires…

Would you like to write more novels set in ancient Greek legend and/or history?

Yes, absolutely! For the Most Beautiful is the first in a series called the Golden Apple trilogy, all centred around retelling the legends of the mythical golden apples. The second book, For the Winner, is set around twenty years before the time of the Trojan War and retells the legendary myth of Atalanta – a young woman and a warrior, who set out along with Jason and the Argonauts on the legendary voyage to capture the Golden Fleece.

Is there another historical period that appeals to you?

I love ancient Rome (if it’s not cheating too much to choose another period within classical antiquity!). There’s something about the urbanity of imperial Rome, its sex, its vices, its intrigues, that is wonderfully compelling. I was fortunate enough to participate in an archaeological dig a few years ago in Pompeii and I adored wandering through the ruins of the ancient city in the morning before the tourists arrived, imagining the early morning salutatio, the clients outside the doors, the slaves running to and fro from the public fountains… But who knows, maybe I’ll come across a fascinating story from another time period just waiting to be told!

Which authors have inspired you to write?

Robert Graves was probably my first inspiration. I was given I, Claudius when I was about ten and read and re-read it incessantly – it was from around then that I think I decided that I wanted to write something like it, something that could bring the classical past alive. Philippa Gregory was also a very formative influence for me, with her ability to retell history from a female perspective: reading her books, particularly The Constant Princess, I began to see that there was a different history, a different story just waiting to be told.

What’s your favourite novel of 2015?

Erika Johansen’s The Queen of the Tearling. I found Kelsea Glynn, the protagonist, to be refreshingly spunky and down-to-earth, and I enjoyed following her progression through the novel from insecure girl to fully-fledged queen.

Buy the book

Thanks so much to Emily! For further stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below, a thing of beauty in itself.

For the Most Beautiful Blog Tour

For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

For the Most Beautiful | Emily Hauser | 2016 | Doubleday | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

For the Most Beautiful by Emily HauserMortals hardly stood a chance. When Paris, a prince of Troy, was asked to choose between the beauty of three great goddesses, by choosing Aphrodite he effectively sealed the fate of Troy. The gods of Olympus are capricious, vain and lethal. Humans are their playthings – beautiful women are there to be taken, punished cruelly if they resist, men have little control over their own destiny on the battlefield. Paris’s prize for choosing Aphrodite is the most beautiful woman in the world – Helen of Sparta, wife of Menelaus of Mycenae, and now, stolen by Paris, Helen of Troy. The great armies of Greece, led by King Agamemnon, brother of Menelaus, arrive at Troy’s shores in thousands of ships. Among the Greeks is the greatest warrior of them all, Achilles – son of a goddess, near invincible and unconquerable, and yet, despite it all, as much a toy in the hands of the gods as any other man or woman who walked these ancient lands of Greece and Troy.

While the Trojan War might have been fought by men, women had just as much to lose and it is into their lives that Emily Hauser takes us in For the Most Beautiful. The story moves between two great beauties – Krisayis, daughter of the Trojans’ High Priest and lover of one of the city’s princes, and Briseis, a princess of Pedasus, a city neighbouring Troy, and a woman doomed by prophecy never to find love but who managed to find it nonetheless. Both women are captured by the Greeks and both have it within their power to help Troy’s cause.

Through these two young women, Emily Hauser enables us to see both sides of this titanic war. We witness the peaceful court of Priam of Troy, contrasting with the angry military counsels of Agamemnon and his men, as well as the few private moments enjoyed by the charismatic and blistering force that is Achilles. The human stories of these two women, abused and victimised and yet always defiant, are set within the golden frame of an ancient world that is more myth than history. Interspersed throughout are chapters spent in the company of the gods, surely the original model for dysfunction in the family. The tempestuous marriage of Zeus and Hera sets the tone for the other relationships, their deceit and whimsical cruelty. The chief villain is arguably Apollo, the god to whom Krisayis was to have been dedicated and in no way worthy of her.

The scenes with the gods are very different to the rest of the novel and I’m in two minds as to their success. The cruel banter between the gods certainly provides light relief at times when the events described in the novel most need it. The story of the Trojan War is well known and its tragedy and brutality was are at times quite overwhelming. Or, more accurately, the sense of fate is quite overwhelming. The scenes with the gods distracts us from this for a few moments at a time while reminding us of the futility of man’s struggle. The language is also different in these chapters, much more modern and knowing. This does mean that we are regularly removed from a novel that is a captivating and rich work of historical fiction stroke fantasy and taken into the less comfortable realms of a modern, almost comic fantasy. Emily Hauser is a classical scholar, her research and feel for the period and subject are well demonstrated, in her use of words and in her inclusion of the fractious gods. There is also an intriguing mention of a blind poet. However, it’s arguable that the gods might have been better left in the wings. Having said all that, they did make me laugh. They also made me quite cross. Many of these humans, especially Krisayis and Briseis, deserve better.

I thoroughly enjoyed For the Most Beautiful. I read it in one day. I wanted to do nothing but read it. Krisayis and Briseis are wonderfully and individually brought to life while Achilles has a presence all of his own. Emily Hauser writes beautifully. She fills the pages with the colours of this lost, exotic world, so lethally dangerous and yet so awed by beauty. Feminine beauty and masculine martial prowess compete for our attention (and that of the gods), willing us to choose between them. For the Most Beautiful is a bewitchingly enchanting novel, warmly inviting us to re-enter a world that refuses to grow old.

The Oracle by D.J. Niko

The Oracle | D.J. Niko | 2015 | Medallion Press | 362p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Oracle by D.J. NikoIt is AD 393 and time has run out for the pagan gods of Greece. The new god’s priests and agents are ready to pursue the followers of the old faiths to the end of the earth, particularly determined to destroy forever the centre of the ancient world – Delphi and its Oracle of Apollo. The last priestess of Delphi, Aristea, brutalised and desperate, is on the run, having escaped from her captors. Her goal is a cave tucked away in the mountains above Delphi. The cave is opened and closed using a locking mechanism triggered by a brass stake or obelisk. Hidden inside the cave are the wonders of the temple, including something especially precious and important, an object that men will kill to obtain. It is there that Aristea believes she will be safe.

Many lifetimes later, in the present day, English archaeologist Sarah Weston and her American partner Daniel Madigan are excavating a Mycenaean tomb near Delphi. The local archaeological museum is full of fabulous artefacts but, when thieves break in one night, they ignore all of this, instead ransacking the case in which a brass obelisk is kept. Just as well, then, that the object is currently backstage undergoing study. A guard is killed that night. The thieves are ruthless. Sarah and Daniel are not intimidated. They’ve been in dangerous situations before. And so, following the clues, especially the obelisk, they uncover a trail that leads to the cave and beyond, across Greece and further afield. As Sarah and Daniel slowly learn what it is they’re searching for, they realise that they could be out of their depth. The ancient gods might not be dead at all. Someone, it seems, is determined to bring them back to life in all their vengeful glory.

The Oracle is the third of D.J. Niko’s Sarah Weston Chronicles. As soon as I finished the first, The Tenth Saint, I read the second, and I knew that this is a series I’ll follow. It’s been quite a long wait but it’s been well worth it. The Oracle demonstrates yet again that D.J. Niko very definitely knows her stuff. She is able to draw on detailed and illuminating research to add an authenticity to her thrillers that makes them very rewarding to read, at no cost to their thrills. D.J. Niko doesn’t just know her history, she also knows her locations inside out. As Sarah and Daniel scour the hillsides around Delphi, you can almost imagine yourself with them. The descriptions of the archaeological sites ring true and the explanation and discussion of old artefacts, religions or philosophies is done in such a clever way that you’re gripped. Back that up with some dramatic chases across Greece and beyond, and throw into the mix some deliciously bad baddies – as well as heroic goodies – and it’s clear that D.J. Niko has discovered the key for writing clever archaeological mysteries that entertain and conscientiously inform at the same time. No mean feat.

Perhaps the only slight issue I have with the series is its ongoing saga of Sarah and Daniel’s relationship. As in previous books, there is plenty of distrust between the two, as well as misunderstandings and bad communication. I hope that these problems have now been resolved and, in future books, they can move on. Far more interesting is the relationship between Sarah and her father, which is barely touched upon here but is very intriguing. I was rather surprised, though, by the rather brusque treatment of the relationship between Daniel and his father. But these are incidental concerns. The emphasis throughout, at least in the reader’s mind, is the mystery and danger at hand and in this nothing disappoints.

Story lines alternate throughout, bringing to the fore the lost pagan world of Aristea. I loved these chapters. They strongly evoke a long gone time and place, that must have seemed old even during the late 4th century AD when the scenes are set. Aristea’s story is every bit as exciting as Sarah and Daniel’s. I also enjoyed the fact that very little is clear cut. Paganism and Christianity aren’t treated as being either good or bad, just as not all of the baddies were always bad. As for the mystery itself, I was kept guessing. It is so good to read an archaeological thriller series as intelligent and well-researched as this one. Throughout it all, our heroine Sarah Weston knows exactly what the most important thing is – the archaeology. I like that.

Other reviews
The Tenth Saint
An interview with D.J. Niko

Guest post: Troy – History or Myth? by Judith Starkston, author of Hand of Fire

Hand of FireMany years ago, during my archaeology days, I was fortunate enough to visit Troy, a site that still today resonates with history and myth (despite the large wooden horse in the car park). This month, Judith Starkston’s novel Hand of Fire is published, a novel that presents the Trojan War through the eyes of a woman – Briseis, a princess captured during the siege of Troy who was to become the source of the the great conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. I am delighted to host here a guest post by Judith in which she discusses the archaeological and historical evidence for Homer’s Troy and for the characters who play out their lives and deaths in Hand of Fire.

Troy – History or Myth?

In Homer’s epic poem The Iliad, about the Trojan War, the bard gave only a few lines to Briseis, the captive woman who sparked the bitter conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon. She’s central to the plot but remains an enigma. In my novel Hand of Fire, I gave her a long overdue voice and story.

While my purpose in writing Hand of Fire was to tell a compelling tale, I also wanted to reflect accurately the history of this time and place. Which begs the question: Is Troy the stuff of mythology or does it have a basis in history? There are actually several layers to that question. For now, I will focus on the actual city of Troy itself. That’s the clearest piece of the puzzle. Elsewhere along my virtual book tour I talk about whether the Trojan War actually happened which is kind of the second step in the question.

Can we say with reasonable certainty that we know where the real city of Troy is located and what life was like there during the period of a possible Trojan War, that is, the Late Bronze Age?

Sophia Schliemann, wearing gold jewellery dug from the site and illegally removed from Turkey (public domain)

Sophia Schliemann, wearing gold jewellery dug from the site and illegally removed from Turkey (public domain)

In the late 1800s, a determined, if sometimes dishonest, German named Schliemann used his private fortune to pursue his dream to find Troy. We do owe him thanks for finding the place that would gradually be confirmed as Troy, although since Frank Calvert was the one who pointed out the location, but didn’t have the money to dig it, this ‘discovery’ was probably just a matter of time. The idea was already afloat. Given all the overly enthusiastic, highly destructive digging Schliemann did, his contribution to establishing the historical foundation of Troy is a bit of a mixed blessing.

The main objection to Schliemann’s identification of the mound he dug up as Troy was that the city he uncovered was too small. If it were really the major city that controlled the wealth and trade moving through the straits between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, known to the Greeks as the Hellespont, what Schliemann showed the world seemed pretty puny. There were believers and many skeptics.

One other inheritance from Schliemann was his assumption that the culture of Troy was Greek and akin to the Mycenaean sites in Greece that he and others were uncovering at this time. He never imagined that any ancient culture in Turkey could possibly be grand enough for his beloved Homer. He was prejudiced, pure and simple, but it is true no grand archaeological sites of the correct period had been discovered in Turkey yet, so his bias had no sites to act as counterweight.

Flash forward past some interim digging by two different archaeologists who both helped and hurt. The story of Troy resumes with Manfred Korfmann, who in 1988 until his death in 2005 (after which work at Troy has continued), gave the site of Troy a modern makeover. Some of his best finds, by the way, came from Schliemann’s dump pile.

Most important, Korfmann used contemporary tools like satellites and geophysical prospection to “look” beneath the ground and discover, without digging, the overall layout of the walls of the elusive lower city. With the pictures revealing the pattern of walls and thus demonstrating an overall size consistent with an important trade center, the problem of Troy being too small was solved. Korfmann demonstrated that up to now only Troy’s citadel had been excavated, which represented only a small portion of the city, as you would expect.

Archaeological site of Troy (photo by J. Starkston)

Archaeological site of Troy (photo by J. Starkston)

Among the many other things this modern dig has shown about Troy, the point of greatest importance to me is that Troy was an Anatolian city not a Greek one. Ancient Anatolia (modern Turkey more or less) stretched from the west coast along the Aegean into Syria to the east. In the Late Bronze Age, Anatolia was dominated by the Hittite Empire, and Troy was an allied, often vassal, state to the Hittites. Modern archaeology had in the intervening years uncovered a grander world than Schliemann would ever have attributed to Turkish soil—an empire that rivaled Egypt and Assyria and that left behind giant archives. In those clay tablet archives are treaties and letters pertaining to Troy (which the Hittites called Wilusa, a version of Ilion, the other Greek name for Troy). Now we can not only be certain this site is Troy, we can also surmise a great deal about this city’s daily life, religion, politics and intrigue because Troy and the rest of Anatolia shared a common cultural tradition. The tablets are full of details of treaties, rituals, and daily life. I used that information to create a historically accurate Briseis, even if, as I must admit, she herself may have originally been the figment of the bard’s imagination. Now she’s a flesh and blood woman with a dramatic life in a region that is to us both exotic and marvelous.

Judith StarkstonIn writing this post I pulled evidence from three works: The Trojan War: A Very Short Introduction by Eric Cline (highly recommended), Was There a Trojan War? by Manfred Korfmann and
Troia in Light of New Research, a lecture by Manfred Korfmann.

Hand of Fire on Amazon UK and Amazon US.
Judith’s website, Facebook and Twitter.
Hand of Fire tour

The King and the Slave by Tim Leach

Publisher: Atlantic Books
Pages: 288
Year: 2014 (4 September)
Buy: Paperback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The King and the Slave by Tim LeachReview
When I opened The Last King of Lydia last year, a debut novel set during a period of history I knew very little about, I had no idea that this fabulous book was set to become one of my favourite novels of all. It was complete in itself but this month sees the publication of its follow up, The King and the Slave, which isn’t so much a sequel as a depiction of another phase in the life of Croesus, once the King of Lydia, the richest king of them all and now reduced to slavery in the household of Cyrus, the King of the Persians. You needn’t have read The Last King of Lydia to appreciate the wonder and beauty of this second novel, but I would urge everyone who hasn’t read it to do so and as soon as possible.

Croesus is a man transformed. His progress to wisdom, begun on a funeral pyre, continues but Croesus the slave has become much more than the King of Lydia ever was, a king who used blinded slaves to count his piles of gold. Croesus might now be more aware, more content in the companionship of his two closest friends, fellow slaves and once slaves of his own Isocrates and his wife Maia, but he will never be less than an object of curiosity for Cyrus. Croesus is produced at feasts and meetings to present his hard learned advice but all the time he is a reminder to Cyrus that he is now a king with a king for a slave.

Croesus’ relatively content existence is thrown into chaos on the death of Cyrus. The new king, Cyrus’ son, is Cambyses who is the epitome of the corruption of power. Cambyses is fully dependent on Croesus the storyteller but no-one is safe from his madness, especially after the king is slighted by the Egyptian Pharaoh and his mind is set on fury and vengeance. The King and the Slave presents the incredible story of this insane king, his cruelty and sadism, all the time watched by the one man who wants to save him, his slave Croesus, who is kept little more than one step away from death.

But The King and the Slave is as much about the relationship of Croesus to Isocrates and Maia as it is about Croesus and Cambyses. These are no normal friendships. Isocrates and Maia have been damaged by Croesus’ reign and although they let him into their embrace, comforting him for the loss of his own family, they can never trust him fully until he proves himself and the slave becomes king of himself.

Tim Leach writes and imagines beautifully. Every page is rich in the colour of history and although the time in which the novels are set is remote (6th century BC) Leach brings it into the present thanks to the remarkable portraits he paints. The themes are large and important to the people of this novel – life, the pursuit of happiness, friendship, good kingship, moral responsibility, a good death. Croesus is surrounded my men who fail in most of these and some suffer the most horrendous tortured deaths. Leach doesn’t spare us the details – Cambyses is quite a character to put it mildly. But despite the battles (there are wonderful scenes here from Cambyses’ legendary march into the desert), the court politics and the cruelty, Croesus somehow manages to rise above it all.

I am so delighted, but not surprised, that The King and the Slave is every bit as wonderful as The Last King of Lydia. Hugely moving, the events take place on a mix of grand and small stages but, above all, it is always believable and makes us at home in this ancient distant setting. Fabulous.

Other review
The Last King of Lydia