May 11, 2014

Arrow Through the Axes: Odyssey of a Slave, Book III

by Patrick Bowman
Ronsdale Press
978-1-55380-323-2
200 pp.
Ages 12+
March 2014

Knowing that you're reading the third and final book of any trilogy can be both exciting and disheartening.   On one hand, the anticipation of learning the fate of all characters and the resolution of all plot lines is exhilarating.  But, knowing that every word read takes you closer and closer to the last gasps of a book's life can be enough reason to draw out your reading as long as possible.  Either way, I don't think I handled the finale as well as I could have, considering how invested I was in the story, all the way from Book I. (See my reviews of Book I, Torn from Troy, and Book II, Cursed by the Sea God) Sadly, I read too fast and now it's over. But, perhaps for you, the journey is still on.

Alexi, the boy from Troy, who was enslaved by Lopex (Odysseus) and forced to work upon the Pelagios as the Greeks made their way slowly back to Ithaca, has grown from a child to a young man both respected for his healing and loyalty and despised by others for his actions.  He has survived brutal attacks by both man and mythical beasts and is now determined to find his sister Melantha whom he'd believed killed.  But a black cloud is following him and the Pelagios. Literally. No matter which way the boat turns, the cloud with an evil eye follows, until lightning courtesy of the god Helios splits the ship apart and sends the crew to inevitable death.  Though badly burned, Alexi is saved by Phaith, the girl whom he'd met on Helios' island.  Even that act of kindness, however, is veiled in deceit.

Escaping from her lonely grasp, Alexi gets on board the cargo ship Sappho which is heading to Mycenae, the city of Agamemnon who'd led the war against Troy.  Intending to search for his sister there, Alexis becomes enmeshed in several plots to place a king on the throne of the murdered Agamemnon.  Surprisingly, the only truth he hears is from a slave named Cass (formerly Crazy Cassie, the Trojan king's daughter), though he does not know it.

First travelling with Orestes, son of Agamemnon, Alexi continues to search for Melantha, stopping to visit the Oracle at Delphi, before going on alone to Sparta, the city of King Menelaus and his wife Helen (of Helen of Troy fame), and then Pylos.  His final journey takes him to Ithaca, accompanying a talkative and gullible young man, Telemachus, who Alexi learns is the son of Odysseus, his former master.

While the plot premise behind Arrow Through the Axes would appear on the surface to be Alexi's search for his sister, Patrick Bowman is a far better writer than one who would settle on this simple storyline.  Alexi may be focused on reuniting with his sister whom he has not set eyes upon since Torn from Troy, but his quest becomes one of enlightenment with regards to the nature of war, specifically about the consequences of the Trojan war.  He had believed that the war was essentially the Greeks attacking and winning over Troy, and that all Greeks were to be despised.  His fickle relationship with Odysseus demonstrates how Alexi both hates him for enslaving him and respects him for his leadership and wisdom.  But, along his travels, Alexi witnesses the ravages of war upon the Greek people, a people who had not chosen to go to war but may have felt duty-bound or been conscripted.
"...you lost so many men in the war.  Fighting-age men.  Fathers. Now the young kids are growing up wild.  The sea is thick with raiders.  The roads are full of bandits.  Kingdoms like yours are being pulled apart, fighting over who will be the next king.  The priest at Delphi said it best.  He said he hoped the war had been worth it, because it had lost the Greeks your soul." (pg. 194)
Homer's epic poem The Odyssey may share with the Odyssey of a Slave series in the telling of Odysseus' legendary return to Ithaca after the Trojan War, but for young readers this series will be the quintessential version of that story.  Patrick Bowman does not hold up the attackers or warriors as heroes but rather all participants as those who have lost, whether it be land, riches, family, freedom, or themselves.  The message that there are no winners in war is clear, but, told through the eyes and insight of a young enslaved Trojan boy, the learning of that lesson is all the richer, and more vivid and poignant. 

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