Troy: Last War of the Heroic Age by Si Sheppard, is the fifth or sixth book in the MYTHS AND LEGENDS series by Osprey Publishing. It does the usual good job, even if it is not quite as strong as several others.
The reason for its middle place in the rankings of these books though is really not so much Sheppard’s fault as it is a built-in conflict between Osprey’s goal of a concise retelling and exploration of these myths and the huge amount of material that makes up the story of the Trojan War. Just trying to shrink the Iliad down to 80 or so pages would be bad enough, but throwing in what happens before the Iliad picks up, what happens afterward, and all those side stories that Homer doesn’t bother with, and then, on top of all that, trying to offer up some historical and social context makes the task really all but impossible. I have to say, Sheppard gives it a valiant try, and really, he succeeds for the vast majority of the book. But it is equally true that within the recapping of events there are a lot of passages that read mostly like a list of names, as he runs through, say, just who Achilles killed in part of an afternoon:
Iphition, Hippodamas, and Demoleon, a son of Antenor, were the first casualties of his rage. His next victim was Polydorus, the youngest son of Priam, fleet of foot . . . Now the slaughter began . . . He butchered the brothers Laogonus and Dardanus as well as Tros, Mulius, and Echeclus, the son of Agenor. Then he transfixed Deucalion with his spear, before decapitating him with his sword. Frenzied, inhuman in his rage, Achilles rampaged on.
And it isn’t just Achilles that gets this listing sort of treatment; many of the heroes get their victims catalogued. As I said, it’s hard to fault Sheppard for this, but it does weaken the narrative a bit (it also made me wonder why he included so much of the catalog of ships, but to each his own…). I will say, however, that despite this, it is surprisingly compelling, considering how little room Sheppard has for narrative voice that doesn’t simply list the deaths and near-deaths. All the highlights are here of course — Achilles retiring to his tent, Patroclus putting on his armor, the Trojan Horse, the river rising against Achilles, the sacrifice of Iphigenia. But I was pleasantly surprised by how many smaller bits he covered that I hadn’t remembered until being reminded here, and there were even a couple of events I had either never come across or had long ago completely forgotten. And I was pleased to see he took us away now and then from the fighting, as when we see that pivotal domestic scene with Hector and his family. Considering what he had to cover and the space he was given to cover it, I have to say he does a very impressive job, not only in “covering” the content but also in lending it a narrative excitement through most of the retelling. Fair warning, he does not shy away from Homer’s and others’ relatively graphic depictions of violence.
Beyond the stories, we get a quick — very quick — look at the archaeological evidence for Troy, some sidelights into the history of Helen, a rundown as to which gods favored which side, background on the Amazons, and a few others, though I believe fewer than in prior books (though I could be wrong on that), closing with a very brief overview of the story’s presentation in more modern times and across varied media.
As usual, classic art and line drawings are plentiful, though I could only see some of them in this early-copy e-book version. The art has consistently been excellent in this series, and I can only assume that remains true here; it is in fact one of the series’ strongest points.
As I keep saying, these books make great concise overviews for people looking to learn more or great beginning steps for those looking to go further into detail afterward. And like the others, Troy would also be an excellent resource for middle school or high school students. The more I read in this series, the more impressed I become with its consistency. Recommended.