Book Review: Polyxena: A Story of Troy by Herb Allenger

7897157Title: Polyxena: A Story of Troy
Author: Herb Allenger
Genre: Historical Fiction
Review copy provided by Cindy Dashnaw at BohlsenPR.
Rating: 4,5 stars

After Troy falls, Neoptolemus claims Polyxena as his prize, but she rejects his advances. In a fit of rage, Neoptolemus contrives a story that dooms the ill-fated Polyxena. She knows what she must do to survive, but she cannot change her destiny. Polyxena, the daughter of King Priam of Troy, knows her misfortune has been to have Neoptolemus fall in love with her. As she prepares to die at the commemoration rites for Neoptolemus’s father, Polyxena reflects over her past year, relating her thoughts to Aphrodite, the Goddess she believes is responsible for orchestrating the events that have beset her. As she tries to make sense of it all, Polyxena converses with all the well-known personages associated with the Trojan myth-Achilles, Agamemnon, Cassandra, Helen, and many others-while seeking solace in the hope that her existence has not been futile. In this moving story of forbidden love, a young woman who is an integral part of the romantic legacy surrounding Troy comes to a surprising and satisfying conclusion about the life she has lived.

As she is waiting to be sacrificied to the Gods, Polyxena reminisces about her life, about the people she loved and the people she hated. About the events that led her here, like a lamb to its slaughter, courtesy of Neoptolemus. That’s how this gripping, nearly paralyzing piece of historical fiction starts off. Polyxena tells us that she isĀ  one of the daughters of King Priam of Troy, and not just anyone of his daughters – she’s probably the most intelligent, stubborn and brave one. Rather than spending time with the other women at court, doing whatever it is women did in those days, she prefers to go horseback riding, and having actual intelligent conversations with people. Although she is already past the age that girls should get married, she still hasn’t found a suitor, nor is she desperate to find one. Independent enough to live on her own, and not at all concerned with love, marriage and children – especially not with the war still going on, and her beloved brothers dying one by one – Polyxena seems the excellent choice to go visit the Amazon queen, Penthesileia, and persuade the latter to help the Trojans win this war.

When Polyxena travels to the Amazon grounds, she is in for the surprise of a life time. Not only does she meet and befriends the great heroic queen, Penthesileia, but she also feels attracted to her general, Antiope, a young and beautiful woman. In the first relationship of her life, Polyxena feels a strong connection towards Antiope, but is forced to depart her behind after an attack gone completely wrong. That’s when she meets Achilles – the Achilles – the strong and brave warrior who is the sole reason the war that ruined her country has continued for this long, the man blessed with power that can only come from the Gods, and the murderer of her beloved brother Hector. Face to face with the man who practically ruined her life, Polyxena is surprised by the way she feels about him. And as their attraction towards each other blossoms into something new, she knows very well that she’s betraying everyone and everything, and that this relationship might end disastrous. For the both of them.

Once I started reading Polyxena: A Story of Troy, I had a hard time putting it down. The characters were sublime, powerful, crafted with the utmost precision and as real as if they were standing right next to you. The story itself was imaginative, confronting, gripping and very emotionally touching. I was practically sucked into the book, breathing the words and living the sentences. It’s been a while since I had such a good time reading a book, and I have to thank H. Allenger for making me enjoy his novel so much that I hardly know how to express what I feel into words.

I’ll start by talking about the characters. Polyxena, well, she could have been my best friend. I loved her. She was rebellious, but not openly; brave, but not too sure of her own courage; headstrong but not stubborn; and she possessed that nice balance of qualities that turns ordinary people into heroes. She was friendly and kind, but impatient with people that treated her unkindly. If she had been a man, I’m sure she’d make a nice general for Troy, a skillful warrior even. I loved her relationship with Antiope, that started out as friendship at first, but then turned into so much more. H. Allenger focused more on the love-aspect, and the emotional aspects of their relationship than on the physical parts of it, which I thought was a very good choice, as it made me understand them, and their attraction towards each other more than I would have understood it had the focus been on the physical relationship. I knew that their relationship was destined to end some time, but the ending was bittersweet and left me vaguely sad for both of them. It was nice to see that Polyxena was capable of putting her own initial thoughts and the ancient traditions of her own country behind her – like that women should only love men, and that no woman could love another woman in that way – and that she was strong and independent enough to get beyond that, and acknowledge her true feelings for Antiope. The way H. Allenger described this progression was wonderful, realistic and very touching.

I liked how the author portrayed Achilles as well. At first, we see Polyxena’s view of the strong warrior brute who murdered her own beloved brother, but that are her opinions of the man before she even meets him. Then, we gradually see a change in her feelings towards Achilles as he manages to enlight a fire inside of her, she didn’t even know that was there. We see how she likes him more and more, and he likes her as well, as he offers to bring her back to the gates of Troy. I thought their relationship developed a bit fast, but I guess that’s normal when your days together are very limited, or when it’s love at first strike. I was enthralled by Polyxena’s inner battle, and her contradictory feelings as she saw Achilles as post a murderer, and as a possible lover. This was very well and very thoroughly described in the novel, and left me amazed.

The story focuses a lot on mythology and the battle of Troy and the cast that played a role in it. Thankfully, I already knew a lot of Paris, Helen, Priam, Cassandra, Achilles and Agamemnon – because I think this novel would have been confusing at first, if I hadn’t. It’s obvious that the author knows a lot about his characters, their personalities, their weakness and their background, and someone who has only vaguely heard of the war of Troy might be oblivious to certain details this novel touches, or certain events that take place but aren’t described in detail. I thought that sometimes the author tried to include too much too soon, but as I said, I already knew a great deal about Troy, so it was no issue for me. On the contrary, I learned even more about Troy through this novel, and that means that the author more than succeeded at getting his message and story across.

I was warned from the start that Polyxena faced a death sentence, that she was to be sacrified to the gods, but by the time we got to the ending, I felt like crying. I had grown to know this character like she was my best friend, I knew all of her heartaches, pains and suffering, and I wished she got a better fate than the one that was waiting for her. Her message, even at the end, was powerful. She was happy with the life she left, and held no regrets. For me, she was a true heroine.

I would advise this novel to everyone. Even if historical fiction isn’t your favorite genre, Polyxena: A Story of Troy, will touch you in so many different ways, it will draw you in, amaze you and surprise you, and it won’t let you go. Just go read it, and you’ll know what I mean.

Comments

  1. This book sounds really good and I love Greek mythology. I’ll have to see if the library has this one, though. Even in paperback, it’s much too expensive imo. For the moment, it’s on my wishlist. Thanks for mentioning it to us!

  2. This sounds so good! Haven’t read much about Trojan War and this sounds interesting. Thanks for the review!

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