(2006) David A. Gemmell, Bantam Press, £17.99, hrdbk, 480pp, ISBN 978-0-593-0-5222-6
Shield of Thunder is the middle book of David Gemmell's 'Troy' series. The first book was Lord of The Silver Bow. This book was written before his death, but published posthumously. Gemell's wife Stella will complete the third book, Fall of Kings, using his chapter notes and the 70,000 words that he had already given to the publisher.
The book is divided into three parts (books), the first part tells the story of Odysseus' journey to Troy for the wedding of the King Priam's son Hektor to Andromache; the second the events that happen in the city of Troy before and after the wedding and the Olympic style games; the third is three years later during the resulting war.
Interwoven with the characters from the Homer legend are fictional characters created by Gemmell. Kalliades and Banokles are two warriors who fought for the Mykene king, Agamemnon under a general named Kolanos. The general was a coward who was responsible for the death of the legendary Mykene hero Argurios during a raid on Troy. Kolanos tried to give all the Mykene plans to Priam in return for his life. The Trojan king refused and in honour of Argurios freed all the Mykene's warriors on the condition that they killed Kolanos. Back in Mykene they were treated with scorn because they had failed their mission. On the Night of the Lion's Justice, Agamemnon killed forty of the men that returned from Troy; others had their right hands cut off. Kalliades was about to have the same fate when Banokles rescued him; they escaped and were declared fugitives with a bounty on their heads.
Kalliades is an honourable, though because of his past a somewhat emotionally detached warrior, Banokles is more easy going and believes in living life to the full.
The two fugitives join a ship of pirates but when the pirates attack a lone woman traveller calling herself Piria, they rescue her, kill the pirate leader and join Odysseus on the Penelope sailing for Troy.
Though Odysseus knows about the bounty on their heads he forsakes it, as they being heroes are the sort of men he tells stories about. The Ugly King also knows Piria's true identity and the reason why she wants to travel to Troy. She is a runaway priestess from the island of Thera, who has a connection to Hektor's bride to be Andromache. Fearful of men, she eventually learns to trust Kalliades and confides in him.
The narrative in the first part of the book moves forward quite slowly, the main part of the story, the insight into the characters is told mostly via flashbacks or less often by conversations with another character. Some of this may be reference to the first book in the series, but as I have not read that one I cannot confirm that. However, I did not feel that was a disadvantage that I was reading the second Troy book and I was able to easily follow the plot and identify with the characters.
Homer's legends are mythological, the ancient Greek gods are very much a part of the story appearing in person to shape the events, Gemmell tells the story as mostly historical, although certain mystical elements are still present such as prophecy and prediction. For example, the book's title comes from a prophecy by Melite and Kassandra's renowned prophecy talent is shown to come true.
All the well-known historical figures, such as Achilles, Paris and Nestor, appear in the story. Though the fabled beauty Helen is only a minor character and described as rather plain!
The Trojan Horse in the book however is not the wooden gift; it's the Trojan cavalry who are depicted as an almost unstoppable army. However, the Trojan Horse part of the legend that lead to the downfall of Troy would have happened several years after the events in this book and could be in the next part of the series.
I felt the Bronze Age world was very realistically portrayed. I had no trouble imagining the ancient ships powered by many rowers charging across the sea and riding up the beaches. Fighting is very descriptive as brutal and bloody as it would be in reality, but not too gory for my tastes. As a woman, I found the constant threat of rape more disturbing. It is very apparent throughout the book that men abusing women was commonplace during this time period and even those that are not raped are given very little freedom and often forced to marry against their wishes. Women are also blamed for making men desire them in the first place, an argument used by one of the nastier sexual abusers in the story.
I did like the detail that Gemmell's used when describing events, especially all the preparations that were needed for the Olympic style games. The size of the event came over very well. Similarly the description of the complexity of moving large numbers of soldiers and keeping them fed.
The only criticism I have is that a few modern idioms did seem out of place, but probably not surprising given that the book is written for a modern 21st century audience.
Being the second book of a trilogy the story does seemed somewhat unfinished but enough of the plot lines and character's fates are completed to make it a satisfactory read, yet still leaving enough to make the reader desire the sequel and the conclusion.
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