October 13, 2013

Cursed by the Sea God: Odyssey of a Slave, Book II

by Patrick Bowman
Ronsdale Press
978-1-55380-186-3
204 pp.
Post Hypnotic Press (audiobook)
978-1-927401-63-7
Ages 10+
March, 2013


Trojan teen Alexi from Patrick Bowman's first book in his Odyssey of a Slave series, Torn from Troy (reviewed here on December 8, 2011), continues to serve the Greek commander Lopex (Odysseus) aboard the Greek ship, Pelagios. After the Greeks took Troy and escaped the Cyclops, their wish is to head home to Ithaca after years away.  Cursed by the Sea God follows them in their homeward travels, making stops to replenish supplies, to broker trades, and to make repairs as needed.  But, courtesy of Patrick Bowman's imaginative plotting and complex understanding of Greek mythology, their journey is neither direct nor easy, inviting the reader to accompany the motley crew from one adventure through some peril to another exploit.  There is little respite for the reader or Alexi as the Pelagios sails for Ithaca.

This instalment begins with the crew arriving on the island of Aeolia whose king keeps his people in order with threats of "polishings".  Sadly, the king has not been advised about the fatal nature of "polishing" by the winds.  To thank them for their candor, the king provides Lopex with a securely tied bag containing some energetic entity that would help them on their voyage.  For three days, Lopex holds tight to the neck of that bag, never sleeping.  But when the ships are only a day and a half away from home, Lopex falls asleep.  Though Alexi tries to rouse him and secure the bag closed himself, the Greek brute Ury grabs it and releases the wind within, allowing hurricane forces to push the ship almost back to the very island from which they'd come.  Lopex, seeing Alexi struggling to shut the bag that Ury had opened, accuses the boy of this traitorous act and deems him Ury's slave now, without the protection he'd enjoyed earlier.

Now with a still greater distance to travel home, the crews of Lopex's ships resume their journey, stopping at an island of ship-wreckers who serve a cannibalistic queen and then one inhabited by a sorceress, Circe, who both tricks and aids the Greeks.  Without revealing too much more (though a reading of Homer's Odyssey should provide more details), the crew of the Pelagios must delve into the hidden realm of Hades, home of the dead; attempt to resist the haunting songs of sirens;  avoid a six-headed monster; and endure starvation on the island of Helios.

Their travels are encumbered by so many obstacles that it's hard to believe that there would be opportunity for Alexi to continue to be victimized by Ury but, as one of Lopex's secondary leaders, the Greek bully finds the means to humiliate Alexi and plot his murder, believing Alexi knows something about the killing of Ury's brother at Troy.  But, Cursed by the Sea God is as much about trust and friendship as the voyages, with Alexi often wondering about others' motivations and needs.

Many middle-grade readers are currently enamoured with a series involving a boy named Percy who learns he is a demigod, but I believe that Patrick Bowman's Odyssey of a Slave series far surpasses it in the authenticity of dialogue and embedded perspective of the characters.  Never does the text seem contrived or hollow, nor do the characters demonstrate the traits of anything but victors, slaves, warriors, and strangers with whom Alexi has encounters.  Using time-slips to bridge across time periods demands that readers suspend disbelief but setting the story in an ancient civilization, as Patrick Bowman does in Cursed by the Sea God, as well as in Torn from Troy, and writing so evocatively and with complexity, there is no need for this suspension of disbelief.  I began to consider the possibility that there really were sea monsters, witches, and animated beef parts in Ancient Greece and that their gods and mythology were all based in reality.  That's an astounding accomplishment for a writer.  Moreover, without leaving readers hanging tortuously in anticipation of the next volume, Patrick Bowman agreeably encourages his readers to return to learn more of Alexi's story.  After the drama and the relentless adventures in Cursed by the Sea God, it may be difficult to wait for Book III, but wait I will, determined to know how Alexi's story gets resolved.

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