December 08, 2011

Torn from Troy: Odyssey of a Slave

by Patrick Bowman
Ronsdale Press
199 pp.
Ages 10+

Reading (and undoubtedly writing) a novel for children that is set in ancient times can be challenging, with its new vocabulary and cultural references, but the experience of immersing yourself in a completely foreign time-period is without equal.  Learning about ancient civilizations using non-fiction texts is valuable but incomparable to living the life through a character.  How many adults enjoy the experience of Canadian Pauline Gedge's Ancient Egypt  in The King's Man Trilogy (Penguin Canada), 8th century China in Guy Gavriel Kay's book Under Heaven (Penguin, 2010) or Ancient Rome in the Marcus Didius Falco series (Lindsey Davis)?  Our young readers have a rare opportunity to do the same here, with Patrick Bowman's Torn from Troy: Odyssey of a Slave (Ronsdale Press, 2011), a selection nominated for this year's Red Maple Fiction Award.

In Torn from Troy: Odyssey of a Slave, fifteen-year-old Alexi lives with his older sister, Melantha, in Troy when, after ten years of fighting, the Greeks capture the city using deceit and an infamous wooden structure.  By sacrificing herself in attacking and killing a Greek soldier, Melantha helps Alexi escape, although he is captured the next day.

Taken as just another slave with other Trojans, Alexi's ability to speak Greek (his grandmother was Greek) wins him favour with the Greek commander, Lopex (a.k.a. Odysseus, son of Laertes).  On board their ship, the Pelagios, Alexi's attention and cleverness continue to impress Lopex, but his tongue makes an enemy of him to Ury, a brute who Alexi learns is the brother of the Greek soldier killed by Melantha. After skirmishes with the Cicones (allies of Troy), Alexi is recognized as a healer, just as his father, Aristides of Herakleon, was and declared hagios (set apart as sacred) by Lopex.

Alexi's responsibilities continue to put him in tenuous situations: stupefied by the ophion and ministrations of Apollonia and the beautiful women of her town; fabricating stories (about miasms sent from Poseidon) to appease the Greeks threatening revolt; and surviving the attack by a legendary one-eyed creature.  Luckily, Alexi's good sense and cunning win him allies amongst the slaves and Greeks alike, save for Ury who continues to tyrannize the boy.

Alexi's exploits and ordeals command the reader's attention and support, but it's his sense of justice and loyalty that will endear him to the reader.  I found Bowman's writing captivating, although I might recommend that a glossary of Greek terminology be included to explain terms whose meanings could not discerned.  Regardless, the mystery which Alexi ultimately feels he must uncover (you'll need to read the book for this) will ensure my reading of his subsequent adventure, The Sea God's Curse (Ronsdale Press, fall 2012).

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