Author: Tracy Barrett
Genre: Fantasy / Historical / Greek Mythology / Young Adult
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: September 14th 2010
Hardcover: 272 pages
Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago. But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.< em>
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I recently read and loved Dark of the Moon by this author and as soon as I was done with it, I went and bought King of Ithaka looking for more awesomeness. I found it.
In Greek Mythology, Telemachos is the son of the great Hero Odysseus and a central character in Homer’s poem The Odyssey – its first four books focus on Telamachos’ journey to find news of his missing father, who had been away for about 20 years. After these first few books, Homer concentrates on Odysseus’ journey home until father and son are reunited in a glorious (and gory) ending when they execute the wannabe usurpers of Odysseus’ throne (and suitors of Penelope – his wife and Telemachos’ mother ). 1
King of Ithaka is a reimagining of the Odyssey from the point of view of Telemachos, who tells his own tale as a young man in the small kingdom of Ithaka. His life, up to the moment when the story starts, has been that of a careless youth who spends time with his best mates, eating and sleeping to his heart’s content. This carefree life is about to come to an end when new visitors arrive and Telemachos, as the King’s son, is to greet them. Reality strikes when he realises he outgrew his tunic and his sandals; and although he still hasn’t grown a beard and his father’s subjects do not show any respect for his position, he is nevertheless becoming a man. The veil has been lifted and now Telemachos realises the sore state his father’s kingdom is in: the defence walls are crumbling down and there is economic and political unrest after all a kingdom without a King is not a kingdom at all. Odysseus has been away for more than 15 years and the Trojan War has ended 5 years ago and his neighbours are clamouring for his mother, Penelopeia, to remarry. She promises to marry one of them once she has finished weaving a shroud for her father-in-law but she has come up with a stratagem to keep them at bay: she weaves during the day and un-weaves part of the work during the night. But she can only keep this ruse for so long and this sense of urgency is what prompts Telemachos to finally act and he listens to the counsel of a wise old man who tells him to go in search of his father: if he is still alive, great. If not, it’s time to move on.
He leaves with his best friend Brax and their friend Polydora to journey in search of the father he never knew, armed with a few bits and bobs and a prophecy that says Ithaka will have its King after Telemachos goes after his father and returns:
to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not.
I recently read Tracy Barrett’s newest book Dark of the Moon, a reimagining of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and I loved it so much, I had to go and read King of Ithaka immediately. King of Ithaka shares some of the same attributes that made me appreciate Dark of the Moon so much: the lovely writing, the thoughtful themes and the realistic tones of the story. I mean, as realistic as a story can be considering that there is an abundance of mythological creatures inhabiting Telemachos world – his best friend Brax, for example, is a Centaur.
These realistic tones are present in the way that this story is less profusely heroic and more down to earth when it comes to Telemachos’ day to day struggles or the acknowledgement that there is no way Penelopeia can keep her stratagem for long; it is in the meeting with the great personages of the Odyssey: from Nestor to Menelaus; from Helena to Odysseus himself, all of them living with the consequences, to one degree or another, of a terrible War or of the terrible choices they made. One of the coolest things about this story is how there is an acceptance of the fact that poets lie or rather, poets embellish and exaggerate, because what matters is that a great story is told, regardless of whether they are true or not. There is even a bit of meta-storytelling when Telemachos meets Homer and witness firsthand just how stories can be created.
The point is, with this story, Telemachos (and even Odysseus) are somewhat removed from a pedestal of uniqueness and placed amongst everybody else. This is what makes Telemachos’ story so good: that it is no longer separate, in illo tempore. It is now an universal, relatable story of a boy becoming a man, realising what’s important to him, growing up to find his place in the world and more importantly, growing away from his father’s shadow.
And I know I am making this book sound far too clinical but it’s not: it’s really good fun. There is adventure and danger, treachery and murder and also love, true heroism, friendship and loyalty. Plus, even though they are secondary characters, the female characters were really interesting and well developed. I particularly liked Poly, Telemachos’ love interest: she was spirited, intelligent and capable and more than once saved Telemachos’ life.
I also loved the examination of Xenia, the custom of hospitality and courtesy that was so important to Telemachos and his household; I loved the fact that Telemachos spends most of the book with an idea of the characteristics a King must have to be a great person: strength, bravery, generosity but is clueless about the fourth aspect which is the ultimate attribute that will set Telemachos apart from all the Kings he meets.
King of Ithaka is a true hero’s journey and an awesome coming of age story and I loved every second of it.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
Hear this: I did not hate my father for leaving us. I was, of course, only a baby when he left, but even as I grew up fatherless yet with a living father, I still did not hate him.
My father and many other men had heeded King Agamemnon’s call to leave their farms and their kingdoms and their families to follow him to Ilios and reclaim his brother’s kidnapped wife, the lovely Helena. But over the years, as we neared manhood, the other boys’ fathers came back. They returned either in person, bearing riches from the treasuries of the fallen city, or only in the words of a messenger reporting that they had died bravely in battle.
I alone did not know what had happened to my father. I questioned my mother, but she, weaving at her loom or preparing meals for the many guests who required the hospitality of the palace even in the king’s absence, counselled patience.
No, I did not hate my father for leaving. Going to war is a man’s duty. But later, much later, I hated him for returning.
Additional Thoughts: I seem to be ready to go on a Greek Mythology-inspired stories glom. As soon as I finished King of Ithaka I went and bought: Goddess of Yesterday, The Shadow Thieves by Anne Ursu and Pegasus by Robin McKinley.
And if you know and love books like that, I would very much welcome your recommendations!
Rating: 8 – Excellent, leaning toward 9
Reading Next: You by Charles Benoit
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- Apologies for the quite crude and basic recap of The Odyssey. Homer must be twisting in his grave right now. ↩