I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Theseus, the boy-king of Eleuisis, is ritually preordained to die after one year of marriage to the sacred Queen, but he defies the Gods' decree and claims his inheritance - the throne of Athens. His friends are the young men and maidens, slaves of the Gods, chosen for death in the Bull Dance. His fabled enemy is the monstrous, half-man, half-bull, Minotaur, devourer of sacrificial human flesh. In her classic re-creation of a myth so powerful that its impact has survived down the centuries, Mary Renault has brought to life the world of ancient Greece. For here is the true Atlantis legend, with its culmination in the terrible, fateful destruction of the great Labyrinth, the palace of the house of Minos.
I found myself rooting about in my memory, struggling to recall the Greek mythology that I studied as an undergraduate student, as I evaluated this lovely historical fantasy. My memory is rather hazy, but I think that Renault did a remarkably lovely job of formulating the myth into a plausible tale.
I had to love Theseus’ young-man enthusiasm, his gung-ho attitude, and his willingness to plunge into whatever the Gods presented to him and attempt to succeed at it, whether it is wrestling, chasing bandits, governing, or acrobatics. Oh, to have that youthful energy later in life!
I also appreciated that although Poseidon speaks to Theseus, that he doesn’t literally appear and conduct a conversation with the young man. We just take Theseus’ word about what he is experiencing when he receives communication from the deity—it remains his personal experience, not requiring the reader to join him in his faith.
In addition, I found Renault’s version of the shift from matriarchal to patriarchal society in the ancient world to be believable.
I can see where I will be revisiting some of the classical tales in the near future, to restore my memories and prepare to read more of Renault’s charming fiction.
It was Jo Walton's excellent book, Among Others that inspired me to pick up this novel and I am very glad that I did.