Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 6, 2013

The Lost Sisterhood tells the story of Diana, a young and aspiring--but somewhat aimless--professor at Oxford. Her fascination with the history of the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece, is deeply connected with her own family's history; her grandmother in particular. When Diana is invited to consult on an archeological excavation, she quickly realizes that here, finally, may be the proof that the Amazons were real. The Amazons' "true" story--and Diana's history--is threaded along with this modern day hunt. This historical back-story focuses on a group of women, and more specifically on two sisters, whose fight to survive takes us through ancient Athens and to Troy, where the novel reinvents our perspective on the famous Trojan War. The Lost Sisterhood features another group of iconic, legendary characters, another grand adventure--you'll see in these pages that Fortier understands the kind of audience she has built with Juliet, but also she's delivering a fresh new story to keep that audience coming back for more.

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I have a secret... Are you ready? 

I hate Romeo and Juliet. I'm not joking, the story annoys me to no end. I didn't even want to read Anne Fortier's debut, but it was the first title on the Goodreads giveaway page when I discovered that section of the site and I was a little excited at the novelty of it all. Now anyone familiar with the Goodreads giveaway algorithm knows I won the book, they also know I haven't won another in the three years since, but that's getting off topic. Point is I got a free read and though I had no love for the story that inspired it, I developed a deep appreciation for Fortier's re-imagining of the classic.

Now I know what you're thinking. What does this have to do with The Lost Sisterhood? It has to tie in somewhere right? Don't worry, it does. You see despite the esteem I hold for her earlier work, I didn't return to Fortier out of loyalty, nor did I fall prey to my weakness for eye catching cover art. No, the sad truth is I hate The Iliad and wanted to see if Fortier could work her magic a second time and rework the material into a tale I might actually enjoy. 

Was my reasoning shallow? Absolutely. Do I care? Not particularly. Did Fortier succeed? Without a doubt.

I am always a little hesitant when taking on books with duel storylines, but the format doesn't seem to pose a problem for Fortier. As with Juliet, she creates a nice symmetry between the two halves of the narrative and does so without sacrificing the integrity of either. They complement, but don't outright mimic, retaining a degree of distinction that allows the reader to appreciate each for entirely different reasons. 

Though polar opposites in terms of personality, both Diana and Myrina are driven by a personal agenda, both feel challenged by the men in their lives and both are forced to adapt to circumstances outside their control. Fortier counters this similarity with tone, centering Diana in a complex web intrigue and deceit while presenting Myrina's experiences as an emotional journey of self-discovery and inner strength. The inherent contrast makes both stories unique and allowed Fortier to explore various forms of feminine courage, vitality and endurance.

I personally preferred Myrina's story, but when you consider why I picked up The Lost Sisterhood, that isn't really surprising. Fortier alters the familiar tale, putting a unique spin on the story made famous in Homer's epic and though I didn't appreciate it as much as Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Firebrand, I was far from bored. Diana's story is the more predictable of the two, but I found the larger concepts incorporated into her portion of the narrative, the black market antiquities trade and complexities of artifact restitution, as fascinating as Fortier's version of the Trojan War.

The only thing I wasn't in love with was the length. At six hundred plus pages, The Lost Sisterhood is a tome and though volume in and of itself is not a factor in my personal rating system, momentum is. As much as I liked the story, I can't deny both the contemporary and ancient plots were padded with an unnecessary degree of superfluous information. It is great material and I don't begrudge Fortier's desire to include it, but I nonetheless feel it was detrimental to the pacing of her work and made it difficult to remain engaged in the story.

My mind may have wandered from time to time, but I enjoyed the book all the same. An imaginative blend of adventure, mythology and romance, The Lost Sisterhood is an alluring tale of buried secrets, forgotten truths and the feminine solidarity. 

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He poked at the jackal bracelet with evident loathing. “You make so much of this freedom of yours, yet allow yourself to be enslaved by a piece of metal.” Then, letting go of her, he took a few steps back, a challenge in his amber eyes. “If you really wish it were otherwise, make it so. You are the only one with the power to do that."
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