I mean, look at it.
It’s just beautiful, no?
And it’s an actually original, inspired re-write of the Odyssey. You remember all those half-formed misgivings I had about originality in The Wicked + The Divine? None of those here. Not a one. And the writers knew a thing or ten about the actual Odyssey. The way they write epithets, and twist the plot around the changes they’ve made. It’s fantastically authentic.
Not going to lie, this post is just going to be a stream of uninterrupted joy, because I loved this book without reservation. I need the next volume as soon as it’s available… which looks to be May this year *saves date in ‘phone calendar*.
So, why is it so fantastically brilliant? I’ll get to the Classics in a bit more detail in a moment, but for starters: the art.
There’s a particular art-style I really, really dislike. There’s gradations of it, but it’s currently most exemplified in Adventure Time. There’s a sort of… ickyness to it? It plays on slightly nasty details and it just… bleerrgh no. I mean, at the far end of the spectrum, there’s Ren and Stimpy which gave me legitimate nightmares as a child. Not a lie. Even thinking about the art just creeps me out. So when I picked this up – because the cover doesn’t give much away – and knowing that the story of the Odyssey can’t really be told without a certain level of ick… I was worried. And I was absolutely wrong to be. The art style is just… gorgeous. I don’t have the right words to appreciate the aesthetics of it – I ditched the module in my uni course that would have taught me to appreciate art better pretty much as soon as I could (because I nearly fell asleep in the archaeology lectures) – but there’s a lot of appreciation there. It just… it fits everything to beautifully. The way everything is completely drenched in colour especially in the gory scenes is just fabulous – you get a real sense of there being ALL OF THE GORE but somehow without it being icky in that way I hate.
I’m not sure this is spoilers, because the story is broadly conforming to the narrative of the Odyssey, but fair warning, minor spoiler ahoy in picture form:
They made the scene with the Cyclops eating people beautiful. I mean. Come on.
Before I run out of art-appreciating words, there are basically two things I love about how they’ve done this (and a third if you count “the way the two fit together”): firstly, as mentioned, the sort of trippy, colour-drenchedness of it all, that manages to convey things like “gore” but also beautifully achieves entirely different things like “space” and “a person literally exploding”. It’s great, I love it, and it means you spend ages staring at each scene, almost lost in it. Secondly, the drama of it all, the grandiosity. For this, have another spoiler/non-spoiler image:
That picture is definitely one angry person, but is it just me who is hearing dramatic backing orchestras? It’s just… wow.
Yeah I ran out of picture-describey words. I am better with words-books, I think.
But the way everything is just so… overblown and melodramatic is so so very Odyssey, right? I mean, this is the story of years and years of voyage, with shipwrecks and gods and monsters and everything. I don’t think you could do it any justice without a bit of melodrama, and they’ve just gone “screw it” and turned it to eleven. What’s the phrase, “go hard or go home”? Yeah, that. And then when you put that with the trippy, overdone colours it just comes together and I can’t stop staring at the pretty pictures. It’s perfect for the story, and the setting.
Story-wise, it’s a great reworking. It’s not at all hackneyed, there’s no “oh yeah, right, now they do the thing, no one is surprised”. Things have been changed at the right points and in the right ways, with enough new stuff in the background, that it feels like a proper reinterpretation of the story – one where the authors are completely aware of the original, completely respectful of it, but also completely willing to take things in new and exciting directions. I think it’s the middle one that gets me the most. You can tell they know what they’re working with, so much (picture time again):
This isn’t the coolest example of them working with epithets, but since I’ve been using bits of the Cyclops story already, I’m going for minimum spoil. They use epithets a fair bit, and they aren’t all the traditional ones (though some are; I’m pretty sure there’s a “wily” or two in there), and they use them right. They also combine them, like here, with more Englishy dramatic stuff (to be all English GCSE for a second, have a “rule of three” right there, plus some fun time with alliteration).
Wait a minute.
I just reread all that… and I am pretty sure it’s dactylic.
Yeah, I am fairly sure my scansion is still legit. Or I had too much caffeine today and have gone a bit odd. Entirely possible.
If my scansion is still on the mark, that is some pretty awesome relation back to the source text. If it had been hexameter, even better, but we can’t have everything in life (and they’d have had to cut it shorter and miss out the crescendo). Right now the temptation is for me to go back and start scanning bits of the text all throughout but I will hold myself back and get to the end of a ‘blog post in one sitting. Might go back and scan later though. Updates may follow.
To return roughly to an actual point, there is some solid interaction with the source material, and it is really respectfully treated. They don’t hack away at bits they can’t be bothered with and just keep what’s shiny; there’s all sorts of little, unnecessary but gorgeous details in there that hark back to Homer. So much of their new stuff too has its roots in the original material. Even when it’s deviating from the Odyssey, it’s kind of not. And that’s amazing. I’m aware I’m being really vague, but I’m quite worried about spoilers, especially given that I’ve sort of done some already. But just… bear in mind that they’ve re-set it in space, and recast the gods accordingly. A lot of things are also not exactly deviations from the original, but taking the ideas and just increasing the scale. I suppose if you’re going from a sea voyage incorporating all of the (pseudo-fantasy) Mediterranean to a time where going dramatically big means the whole world at a minimum, space is definitely the way you have to go. But they’ve ramped everything up accordingly, even the prophecies and the gods’ responses to things.
And the gods are so, so perfect. They’ve really hit the mark on the arrogant, angry, insecurity of the Zeus of the Odyssey. There are the remnants of the story of the Iliad hanging in here and there, and the way Zeus has to fight to keep control of the rest of the gods there, having to threaten over the top violence to make them toe the line, and it’s brilliant. His temper and his power and how he cannot take any amount of insubordination. I honestly feel they have his character down perfect. Likewise Odyssia has the same grim determination of Odysseus, the same weariness and striving, with all the regrets and longing for home.
I haven’t yet mentioned the fact that Ody-C is gender flipped, have I? I’m not going to say I didn’t notice or it didn’t matter, because neither of those is true, but it sort of paled in comparison to the awesomeness of everything else. It’s a bit more complicated that a flat gender-flip (spoilers) but it’s done really well, and I think the story and characters gain a lot by it. Odyssia is absolutely right for Odysseus. Not a carbon copy at all, but definitely in the spirit of the original while being perfect for her setting. I love how she looks, how she’s the right amount of aged and rugged and obviously battle-hardened, but not actually old:
She looks like someone who’s been out in the sun and fighting, and seen a lot and done a lot and survived it all by being cleverer than any of it. Not a nice person – but Odysseus is not nice – but a clever person, and a troubled person.
She also looks very very focussed, which works both in the spirit of the original and in the context of a lot of what happens in the story.
And the space-armour. I know you can’t really see it in this picture, but look at the one at the top of the page. Very Classical. Very spacey. Very awesome. Who can resist a cloak?
All this brilliant appropriateness and whatnot applies to the other characters too. The gods are frankly beautiful, while drifting plenty from the conventional portrayals. They get quite abstract, some of them, but still are totally recognisable on sight without caption or clue, for the most part. So much work has gone in to them, it feels.
There is nothing about this I don’t like, frankly. If you like the Odyssey, and you like things that are in space, and you like pretty art, read it, read it now. It’s reinterpretation of the familiar done amazingly well, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything doing it better. I’ll be reading volume 2 as soon as I can get my grubby mitts on it, and recommending this to everyone with wild abandon.
Thanks to Imogen for the rec. BEST REC.
Next post should hopefully be about Adam Roberts’ By Light Alone, if I can get around to finishing it. I keep being distracted by 1950s crime-solving vicars from Cambridge. Which aren’t really SFF so I can’t ‘blog about them (though they are excellent).