Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Song of War by Kate Quinn, Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Russell Whitfield, Stephanie Thornton, & S.J.A. Turney

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: August 31, 2016

Troy: city of gold, gatekeeper of the east, haven of the god-born and the lucky, a city destined to last a thousand years. But the Fates have other plans—the Fates, and a woman named Helen. In the shadow of Troy's gates, all must be reborn in the greatest war of the ancient world: slaves and queens, heroes and cowards, seers and kings... and these are their stories. A young princess and an embittered prince join forces to prevent a fatal elopement. A tormented seeress challenges the gods themselves to save her city from the impending disaster. A tragedy-haunted king battles private demons and envious rivals as the siege grinds on. A captured slave girl seizes the reins of her future as two mighty heroes meet in an epic duel. A grizzled archer and a desperate Amazon risk their lives to avenge their dead. A trickster conceives the greatest trick of all. A goddess' son battles to save the spirit of Troy even as the walls are breached in fire and blood. Seven authors bring to life the epic tale of the Trojan War: its heroes, its villains, its survivors, its dead. Who will lie forgotten in the embers, and who will rise to shape the bloody dawn of a new age? 

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Trends in historic fiction are changing. I’ve read the genre for the better part of the last two decades and I’ve never seen a format grow in popularity the way anthologies and continuities have. I’ve no problem admitting that I've avoided both for as I typically find the stories unbalanced and the authors poorly matched, but books like A Day of Fire and A Year of Ravens have gone a long way in changing that opinion.

A Song of War is the third release from The H Team and I personally think it the strongest of thus far. Unlike the earlier books, the magnitude and scope of the Trojan war allowed each author to explore a pivotal event in the conflict and afforded each contributor a moment to shine in a way the earlier books hadn’t. The stories are intrinsically connected and follow the well-known course of events, but I liked how each author had their own platform and how of their individual voices were showcased within the larger chorus.

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The Apple by Kate Quinn
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Kate Quinn penned the first Song from the dual perspective of Hellenus and Andromache. I was vaguely familiar with the former, but had never given him much thought and was surprised by how quickly the quiet Trojan Prince grew on me. I found Quinn's characterization intensely relatable and I enjoyed how his personally played off her interpretations of his more recognizable siblings. Unlike her counterpart, Andromache was familiar to me and I greatly appreciated and enjoyed Quinn’s interpretation of the character. I found Andromache’s genuine emotion and personal challenges endearing and enjoyed seeing her come into her own and revel in a few moments of pure joy as the cloud of war gathered on her horizon.

Hector, Paris, Helen, and Odysseus made notable appearances in the first Song. Though they aren’t explored in significant detail, most of the narrators are introduced in Quinn’s submission and I appreciated how the effort facilitated transitions between submissions as I made my way through the book. I was also amused by how many secondary myths and stories were referenced in The Apple and appreciated how the piece set the stage for the conflict ahead.

* Best Moment in A Song of War – Kudos for a long overdue double bitch-slap. *

I wondered if Aphrodite was laughing at me, up on Olympus. How the goddess of love had played with my future: if I ever held the girl I loved, it would be over the corpse of the brother I revered.

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The Prophecy by Stephanie Thornton
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Quinn is one of my favorite writers and I pitied the author tasked with following in her wake. Or I did, until I discovered who it was. I’m a big fan of Stephanie Thornton and actually laughed out loud as I knew her story, regardless of subject, would hold its own. Quinn’s signature humor is unrivaled in my mind, but Thornton’s command of language has left me speechless on more than one occasion and while I knew the tone would take a dramatic turn in Song two, I was confident that Cassandra’s story would be as layered and memorable as Hellenus and Andromache's had been.

I found the second Song deliciously dark and strangely addictive. Thornton’s exploration of Cassandra’s family situation and the demons that haunted her tickled my imagination and I was fascinated by how author chose to illustrate Cassandra’s madness. Cassandra is obviously damaged, but there is genuine fire in her and a selflessness that no other character in the narrative rivals. Atmospherically I felt this one of the strongest submissions and I greatly admired the intensity and intelligence of the action and dialogue Thornton presented.

* Best Surprise in A Song of War –Apollo’s Temple… Grotesque, but surprising and satisfying. *

They called me mad because I uttered truths no one wished to hear.

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The Sacrifice by Russell Whitfield
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Russell Whitfield put himself on my radar when I read A Year of Ravens. I’ve actually reread that submission a couple of times since reading the book and could kick myself for not having acquired his solo publications, but long story short, I was excited to see he’d contributed to A Song of War.

That said, I was wholly unprepared for his take on Agamemnon. I’m not a fan of the character and my mind’s eye always flashes on Brian Cox when I read the name, but Whitfield turned that mental image upside down and challenged me to see his protagonist as a man burdened by guilt, alerted by grief, and embittered by years of war and responsibility. Agamemnon’s annoyance with Achilles is palpable, but it was the relationships he shares with Iphigenia and Chryseis that cut to my core. Whitfield’s Agamemnon is a man who gave everything to the campaign and lost his soul for his trouble. It’s a harsh story and brutal on a number of levels, but the presentation and the ideas it explores are a true testament to Whitfield’s creativity, vision, and talent.

* Best Character in A Song of War – Writing a hero is easy, reinventing a villain is an achievement. *

Lust - for women, for gold, for power. Men were base creatures. Ironic then, that he had to place their welfare and their objective first and foremost.

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The Duel by Christian Cameron
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Christian Cameron was the first of two contributors with which I was not previously familiar. I’d no idea what to expect from his writing, but I knew where we were in the story and I swore I’d rake him cross the coals if he didn’t do right by Hector. The outcome was a given, but the Trojan Prince is my favorite character and I didn’t need to see him slaughtered without putting up a decent fight. I’m a passionate reader and I make no apologies for it. I was going to love this submission or hate it, there was no middle ground.

I expected an intensely masculine story and was caught off guard when I realized Cameron had centered his story on Briseis, but I was floored by what happened next. Cameron’s submission was the first to show a different side of a previously established character and I was captivated by how Briseis’ opinions of Achilles contrasted Agamemnon’s. As a character Brises defied traditional gender roles and I loved how Cameron's choice of narrator allowed his to authentically illustrate the expanse of the battlefield. I formed a deep appreciation for the action itself, but Cameron capitalized on the enormity of the conflict and gave his readers a truly remarkable point of view.

* Best Battle Scene in A Song of War – Hand to hand combat between two ‘worthy’ opponents. *

War is brutal, but it is far more brutal to women than men, who, mostly, can only die when their bodies are torn asunder, rather than live on with their lives torn out like the entrails of an antelope taken by dogs.

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The Bow by Libbie Hawker
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I’d stumbled over Libbie Hawker’s work prior to reading A Song of War, but The Bow marks my first time reading it. As with Cameron's work I didn't know what to expect from the writing, but I knew where the story was going. I'd opinion about the material, but I was fairly open minded in regard to how it should play out which is why I was surprised to discover The Bow was the most personally challenging of the entire novel.

I didn’t care much for Penthesilea and struggled to engage in her arc. I liked the general idea, but as with the The Queen by Stephanie Dray, I felt this character could carry her own story and didn’t feel right about it being condensed to so short a piece. I thought Priam had some very interesting moments at this point in the story, but I was confused by Paris, Helen, Andromache, and Cassandra as Hawker’s interpretations weren’t entirely consistent with those of the authors who’d introduced them earlier in the novel.

That said, Philoctetes proved a breath of fresh air. Straight off the boat, he didn’t exude the war weary aura that had settled on much of the cast and I think his perspective allowed Hawker to explore the field in a way none of her peers could. I felt she took full advantage of the opportunity this afforded and applauded her for illustrating homosexual affection without effeminizing her protagonist in the process.

* Best Iconic Moment in A Song of War – Hawker popped the weasel! *

Life without honor is not worth living.

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The Horse by Vicky Alvear Shecter
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Vicky Alvear Shecter is not a new author for me, but as far as I’m concerned, The Horse left the rest of her work in the dust and I’m not just saying that because she had the guts to tackle my second favorite character. Odysseus is easily the most iconic voice in A Song of War and I honestly thought Shecter crazy for attempting to write him, but her interpretation blew me away and left me in absolute awe of her imagination and skill.

Troy is primed and ready to fall in these scenes. Alliances are shifting, some characters are breaking and others are showing their true colors. There’s a lot going on in this piece, but Shecter made it work while drawing the novel towards its climax in a way that complimented both the vision of her peers and the original source material.

* Best Submission in A Song of War – Finest adaptation of original story. *

How do I explain that I would not dare shed blood— especially the blood of the goddess’s servants— lest she curse me and my family for generations for the sacrilege? His approach would only beget an endless cycle of bloodshed. And yet because I shed no blood, I should be ashamed?

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The Fall by S.J.A. Turney
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S.J.A. Turney was in the hot seat from the beginning. His submission anchors the narrative which is challenging enough, but Shecter’s story upped the ante threefold. Aeneas is an interesting character, but Shecter’s Odysseus was untouchable and I wondered if Turney could possibly close the novel in a way that didn’t fizzle in the wake of its predecessor.

It was a legitimate question in the moment, but the concern proved entirely unfounded. Turney’s adaptation of the material didn’t inspire my imagination the same way Shecter’s had, but the emotional aspects of The Fall were nothing short of brilliant. Turney’s prose is my favorite of all the author featured in A Song of War and beautifully emphasizes the intense and powerful themes of his submission. His descriptions are stark and often crushing, but there is a candle flame of hope in his story and I loved how his conclusion tied A Song of War to the entirety of The H Team’s existing catalogue.

* Best Tone in A Song of War – Amazing illustration of human emotion. *

I straightened with a frown. ‘While there is still a Troy to save, I have to save it,’ I said with an air of finality. I do not know even now whether it was pride that drove me to turn my back on the notion of flight, or whether it was the call to duty that every warrior feels, for I suffer from both in equal measure. All I do know, as I look back on that decision, is that it was made in defiance of the urging of both men and gods, against the weaving of the Fates, and it brought us only more pain.

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4 comments:

Rita @ View From My Books said...

Oh, this sounds fascinating, but like you, I'd been wary of "group effort" books for awhile. My only regret is that I need to backtrack and find book one and two of this series to get to this particular book. Thanks for introducing me to this!

Erin Davies said...

The books can be read as standalone pieces. Feel free to read them in whichever order you'd like!

Stephanie - Bookfever said...

I heard Vicky's story is amazing and your review only makes me more excited for this book. I'm so looking forward to tuesday when the book releases! :D

Amy Bruno said...

Wow! That was an excellent review, Erin! Thank you so much for hosting the Blog Tour!

Amy
HF Virtual Book Tours

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