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"Troy - A Novel"
by Adele Geras
"Troy," by Adele Geras, tells the story of life in a besieged city from the perspective of two young women who live at the palace of King Priam of Troy.
Xanthe works in the Blood Room, an infirmary, where Boros -- a nasty piece of work -- brings the wounded and tries to molest her. Xanthe has a special healing and comforting touch, which does as much to alleviate the suffering of the warriors as cleansing and bandaging.
Marpessa weaves the best tapestries in the city, but she is also special because she remembers what the gods say to her. In the Trojan world created by Geras, the deities walk among the mortals, but the people quickly forget the words they exchange with the gods. Except Marpessa. Thus, when Aphrodite makes her fall in love, Marpessa remembers -- unlike her sister when she finds Eros aiming an arrow at her.
These gods, mother and son, make the sisters fall for the same young man, the beautiful Alastor, but only one is right for him -- and it's not the fiancee his haughty mother has arranged. A thread from the original tales of Troy runs parallel to this. Everyone wanted Helen of Troy, but only one (at a time) could have her. First, her Spartan, legal husband Menelaus, and then the love of her life, Paris of Troy. Those were not the only men enchanted by Helen's beauty. Earlier there had been all of Helen's suitors who are now part of the attacking Greek force because of a pledge they made to Menelaus on his wedding day. Now there are all the men of Troy because it is all but impossible for a man not to desire Helen.
As is inevitable in a story about the Trojan War, the Trojans lead the giant wooden horse -- evidently left as an offering by the no longer visible Greeks -- into their city where drunken feasts celebrate the apparent departure of the Greek foe. Unfortunately, the giant horse is hollow in order to house many Greek soldiers, who, clambering down after dark, open up the gates of Troy to their waiting comrades-at arms. The city of Troy is sacked, the men slain and the women captured -- not violated, since this is for youthful readers.
The most gruesome and sad scene tells of the killing of the infant Astyanax, the son of Hector, in the presence of his mother Andromache and of his child minder, Xanthe. Between that brutal murder and her sister's betrayal there is doubt that she will ever recover. But she does and the ending is as promising for the young women as it can be -- given their status as captives.
This is a lovely retelling of the story of the Trojan War and a good introduction to many of the heroes on both sides. Its shortcomings are chiefly in the area of the setting. There is too little descriptive detail to get a vision of the environment in which the Trojan teens lived. Also, as alluded to above, there is a sense of decorum among the conquering soldiers that might be only vainly hoped for even in twenty-first century soldiers, let alone the men who fought alongside Agamemnon.
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