Much as the name suggests, the Troy trilogy is an epic retelling of the legendary Trojan War, aimed more as historical fiction than Gemmell's usual fantasy fare. That said, there are still hints of fantasy in there, including the highly accurate, if riddle-like, prophecies of Cassandra, daughter of Priam and a princess of Troy.
Lord of the Silver Bow is the first book in the series, and, like most David Gemmell novels, it is told through multiple POV characters. This time around, the book focuses on the stories of three main characters. Surprisingly, none of them are the characters you might expect from a story of the Trojan War, as you’ll see from the blurb:
Three lives will change the destiny of nations.
Helikaon, the young prince of Dardania, haunted by a scarred and traumatic childhood. The priestess Andromache, whose fiery spirit and fierce independence threatens the might of kings. And the legendary warrior Argurios, cloaked in loneliness and driven only by thoughts of revenge.
In Troy they find a city torn apart by destructive rivalries - a maelstrom of jealousy, deceit and murderous treachery. And beyond its fabled walls blood-hungry enemies eye its riches and plot its downfall.
It is a time of bravery and betrayal; a time of bloodshed and fear. A time for heroes.
The story opens with Agamemnon, the villain of Homer’s traditional version, visiting an oracle in a bid to unravel the mysteries of his future. While the oracle speaks of glory in Agamemnon’s future, he also drops the name of Helikaon as a potential enemy. This is somewhat fitting, given how the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy plays such an important role in Greek mythology.
Agamemnon sends out one of his most despicable minions to eliminate the threat, little realising that he is in fact setting in motion the series of events that will lead to the Dardanian prince becoming the deadly enemy Agamemnon was warned of.
“A ruler is always in peril, Agamemnon King. Unless he be strong he will be torn down. Unless he be wise he will be overthrown. The seeds of doom are planted in every season, and need neither sun nor rain to make them grow. You sent a hero to end a small threat, and thus you planted the seeds. Now they grow, and swords will spring from the earth.” The Oracle - David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
Helikaon is himself an interesting character. Following a difficult childhood with an abusive father, he was essentially raised to manhood by the legendary king and storyteller, Odysseus (probably my favourite character in the series). By the time the story begins, Helikaon is a highly successful sea merchant, as well as a ferocious warrior. He is already despised by the Mykene (Agamemnon's folk) for previous actions against them, and now he has a king’s bounty on his head.
“We make choices everyday, some of them good, some of them bad. And if we are strong enough - we live with the consequences.” Helikaon - David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
While a reluctant warrior, Helikaon has no qualms about delivering the same level of cruelty against his enemies as they do against theirs. This results in an interesting juxtaposition, where the reader sees Helikaon both as a great hero and an evil villain depending on whose perspective they're reading.
Andromache, meanwhile, has her world turned upside down when she is summoned from her life as a priestess on Thera to marry the legendary Trojan prince, Hector. Free spirited and head strong, she hates the idea of being told what to do, especially after being forced to leave her lover behind.
“My happiness is not in the gift of others. I will be happy, or I will not be happy. No man will supply it, or deprive me of it.” Andromache - David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
On the road to Troy, Andromache receives a prophecy of her own, which tells of three great loves in her life. Shortly after, she bumps into Helikaon, and it isn't long before their relationship becomes something more than a passing acquaintance.
While I'm not a massive fan of romance in my fantasy, there's always a place for love, especially when it comes with as many obstacles - political or otherwise - as those set against Helikaon and Andromache. Add to that the conniving, lecherous old man that is King Priam of Troy, Andromache's future father-in-law and Helikaon’s father’s cousin, and it all makes for an engaging read. Priam is one of those larger-than-life characters you'd expect from the king of a golden city, and the scenes where he makes an appearance are a joy to read.
The last of the three central characters is the legendary Mykene warrior, Argurios. He's the quiet, stoic type driven largely by honour and loyalty, something of a rare commodity amongst his own people. Argurios really gets moving in the story when, witnessing an attack on Helikaon, whom he is travelling with (hostilities between Mykene and Troy are only bubbling beneath the surface at this point), he finds himself duty bound to defend an enemy of his people.
“I am in the company of Helikaon. Now, I loathe him as much as you do, but attack him and I will, by the law, be obliged to fight alongside him. You know me, and you know my skills. All of you will die.” Argurios - David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
This intervention leads to Argurios being outcast as a traitor by his own king. His journey is one of the most engaging in the book, as he must learn to live with his sworn enemies if he has any hope of surviving, or indeed, living.
Aside from Odysseus and Priam, not many of the big players in Homer’s The Iliad make an appearance in this book. Hector makes a cameo towards the end, matching Agamemnon’s at the beginning, and I think I remember a brief flash of Paris and Helen, but Achilles is barely mentioned at all. I think, in part, that’s because Gemmell was trying to create a believable history to the legend. In the process, he has laid the foundations in this book for the war of Troy itself, with those who are remembered by history still yet to play their part.
Gemmell’s writing style flows as well as it ever has, the descriptions short and succinct, yet giving enough detail to draw you into the world. It doesn't hurt either that Ancient Greece forms the perfect platform for his style.
As is usually the case with Gemmell's work, the threads of the story draw slowly together, culminating in a few brave souls battling against overwhelming odds as the first shots of the Trojan War are fired. If that sounds like your bag, and if you're interested in a different take on the fall of that legendary city, you should definitely give this a go.
4/5. It would probably be a 5 if I could get more Odysseus and Priam.