We love sharing stories. Whether written or told, they stay with us, becoming a treasured part of who we are. In that light, the longevity of some stories is just staggering. Told and retold for what could be three millennia – embellished and stripped back a thousand ways – the legends of Troy and the travels of the hero Odysseus stand at the core of Western culture.
Now, acclaimed author Glyn Iliffe is back once again to tell Homer’s epic in his own words and bring it full circle. For the fifth time around, Iliffe returns to the dawn of Greek mythology with The Voyage Of Odysseus, jumping in right where he left us at the conclusion of the Trojan War, relating the travails of Odysseus and his crew as they search for a way back home.
A testament to his skill and experience, the new novel sees Iliffe once again succeed brilliantly at turning the treasured tales of the ancient Greeks – fond as they were of stories filled with ill-heeded omens and inescapable doom – into something with a bit more psychological depth and arcing character development. By doing so, he creates an utterly engrossing story and a highly satisfying read, very much in line with 21st century sensibilities, without sacrificing any of the venerated source material, instead enshrining it diligently, perhaps for decades to come.
While at first glance one could mistake this novel for yet another swords-and-sandals affair, Iliffe knows like no other how to capture the visceral clumsiness of ancient combat and seamanship in all its stomach-wrenching intensity, injecting the action with more than enough adrenaline. For me, it sparked an actual drive to survive as I read. Drawing vivid scenery and immediate action together in a uniquely economical and well-paced style of writing, Iliffe’s talents are subtly sublime, guiding the reader through Homeric myth with a steady and seasoned hand.
But where The Voyage Of Odysseus really shines is in the inclusion of the character Eperitus. Created by Iliffe, Odysseus’ fiercely loyal friend and brother-in-arms lends a critical voice to the main character’s doubts and fears, serving as a bridge between the king and his war-weary crew, as well as communicating a sense of immediacy to the reader. By offering this narrative lifeline, Iliffe turns this traditional myth into a starkly real, mysterious and dangerous journey, and keeps it from degenerating into what could have become yet another high fantasy travelogue.
For all its action-packed urgency, there’s a very human heart beating at the core of the novel, pushing the story onward, as well as the reader. It’s this innate humanity which offers a welcome reprieve to the brutal slog that makes up the bulk of the narrative. Iliffe cuts through the mythological haze to put Odysseus’ love and longing for his country and his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus – and their anguished wake for his return – at the centre stage.
Everything about this novel, its setting, its dialogue, has been honed by someone with a keen knowledge of not only Homeric lore, but the Bronze Age civilization that sired it. This is not the iron world of Rome or even Athens; this is the far older world of Mycenae and Troy, where chieftain-kings lead close-knit warbands to undertake deeds worthy of song, through ties of honour in battle, loyalty in fealty, and equality in the division of the spoils of war. Iliffe knows his stuff, right down to the technology and tactics involved in Bronze Age warfare, navigation and the demands of kingship. His astute sense for the mechanisms of honour, reciprocity and tradition in this far-flung era give Homer’s mythology an extra depth that weaves a so much richer tapestry than can be found elsewhere.
Iliffe expertly walks a thin line throughout The Voyage Of Odysseus, treading carefully but steadily between the fantastical fancies of Homer’s Odyssey and the harshly realistic tone established in his own earlier novels. It is no mean feat having to crowd your story with gods, monsters and miracles, and then still being able to draw a genuine reaction of wonder or mortal dread from your characters every single time – let alone from your audience. Yet Iliffe continues to push the envelope, making Cyclopes, Sirens and demi-gods lift themselves off the page with startling vigour, and making each peril his heroes face feel more harrowing than the last, pushing them past hope and despair and back again with loving malice – just as Homer would have wanted.
With The Voyage Of Odysseus, I remained desperately eager to glimpse what would lie behind the crest of every wave Poseidon could toss at me! I believe Iliffe can rest assured that his crew of loyal fans are willing to following him to the ends of the earth, to see this series through to what is sure to be a rewarding conclusion, in his next book.