Age of Bronze: Sacrifice
As Sacrifice begins (following first volume A Thousand Ships), Paris and Helen return to Troy. King Priam at first refuses to admit her, knowing her presence will bring his city under attack, but she is pregnant with his grandchild. Kassandra prophesies doom but isn’t believed, in an affecting portrayal of a tortured soul.
The Achaeans begin the war, only in the wrong place. They’re so eager for something to happen that they mistakenly think they’ve reached Troy as soon as they sight land. After repairing that mistake, they disperse for winter, leading to more conflict as Agamemnon seeks to reassemble the troops later. His orders continually keep Odysseus from his wife and home, but Odysseus’ strategic skills and knowledge of human nature are just too useful.
Agamemnon’s family curse reappears as he is told that the gods order the sacrifice of his daughter before they will allow the army to proceed. Previously, he thought he could somehow escape personal sacrifice, but maintaining his power necessitates more from him. He’s not willing to do what he demands of others, showing the hypocrisy that can taint leadership.
Conflicting loyalties permeate this book, with characters torn between familial ties and political necessity. Genealogy is very significant, with many claiming relation to gods or famous heroes. There are so many intermarriages and sibling relationships that it’s amazing they were able to go to war at all.
The scale can be immense, ranging from individual conversations, shown in detail, to lots of crowd scenes, with the various groups of forces milling about. The costumes, props, and settings all contribute wonderfully to the authentic feel of the book. Shanower’s work is beautifully impressive, making sense out of what otherwise would have been near-chaos. Simply flipping the pages in these volumes reveals his amazing accomplishment.
I’m strongly reminded, through the strangeness of events the characters take for granted, that I’m reading about another culture: for example, one group doesn’t dare to turn away an enemy who might speak for the gods, while another group has been waiting for two years to go to war. I doubt I will ever be in such situations, but the characters remain identifiable through their basic humanity, especially as shown through their emotional reactions. The import of their actions is brilliantly conveyed through expression, action, what’s said, and what’s left unsaid.
At the same time, a story about a world war and the petty jealousies that drive world leaders has never been more timely. Leaders may claim noble motives, but the key question is “what’s the agenda behind the public message?”