S.D. Gentill’s Chasing Odysseus provides a fresh perspective on Homer’s The Odyssey for young readers. It focuses on the adventures of Hero and her three brothers – Machaon, Lycon, and Cadmus – during the fall of Troy and on their subsequent pursuit of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, throughout his legendary voyages. The siblings are raised among the Herdsmen of Ida, who are allied with Troy before and during the siege. After the city falls, the Herdsmen are erroneously labelled as traitors. Only Odysseus knows the truth and can free them from blame; the siblings pursue the Greek hero to win the truth from him.
Gentill’s considered prose mimics the heightened tone of English translations of Homeric verse, which may discourage the targeted Young Adult readership, since it often, almost intentionally, erects a barrier between the reader and the characters or action. For readers of Young Adult fiction who can appreciate the complexity of Gentill’s style, who have at least a passing interest in The Odyssey, or who enjoy Tolkien’s prose, this won’t be a problem.
Gentill doesn’t shy away from the fantasy elements in her work. Though not as present as in the original material, the Greek pantheon is a force in Chasing Odysseus, and the magic Phaeacian vessel in which the young heroes travel is, by the end, almost a character herself.
Chasing Odysseus is at its best when it delves behind the curtain of the original Homeric poem. In allowing minor characters and monsters a voice, Gentill provides a contemporary, sometimes humorous, and not altogether flattering critique of Odysseus’s actions and motivations, as well as a poignant reminder that, in the ancient world, you didn’t have to be a nice person to be a hero; you just had to be the last man left holding a sword.
CONTENTS: APRIL 2011