#BookReview: A Sea of Sorrow: A Novel of Odysseus by David Blixt, Amalia Carosella, Libbie Hawker, Scott Oden, Vicky Alvear Shecter & Russell Whitfield

Historical Retelling
Ancient History

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Odysseus, infamous trickster of Troy, vaunted hero of the Greeks, left behind a wake of chaos and despair during his decade long journey home to Ithaca. Lovers and enemies, witches and monsters—no one who tangled with Odysseus emerged unscathed. Some prayed for his return, others, for his destruction. These are their stories…

A beleaguered queen’s gambit for maintaining power unravels as a son plots vengeance.

A tormented siren battles a goddess’s curse and the forces of nature to survive.

An exiled sorceress defies a lustful captain and his greedy crew.

A blinded shepherd swears revenge on the pirate-king who mutilated him.

A beautiful empress binds a shipwrecked sailor to servitude, only to wonder who is serving whom.

A young suitor dreams of love while a returned king conceives a savage retribution.

Six authors bring to life the epic tale of The Odyssey seen through the eyes of its shattered victims—the monsters, witches, lovers, and warriors whose lives were upended by the antics of the “man of many faces.” You may never look upon this timeless epic—and its iconic ancient hero—in quite the same way again.

Homer claimed it tedious to tell again tales already plainly told, but I’d argue his perspective shortsighted as there is nothing tedious about A Sea of Sorrow. Though essentially a retelling of The Odyssey, the collaborative brings fresh perspective to Odysseus’ journey and presents thought-provoking ideas about the ancient world.

Song of Survival and Epilogue by Vicky Alvear Shecter

I grinned when I realized Vicky Alvear Shecter wrote the first story in A Sea of Sorrow. Her interpretation of Odysseus in A Song of War blew me away and I was immediately comforted by the knowledge that I was in the hands of an author I trusted with the material.

Having said that, I want to note that neither “Song of Survival” nor the “Epilogue” are relayed from Odysseus’s point of view. Shecter’s stories center on the family he left behind and the impact of his extended absence. Telemachus, as a boy in a matriarchal home, is at a great disadvantage and I liked how Shecter’s narrative captured the social and developmental repercussion of his circumstances. I was equally impressed with the substance she gifted Penelope. Odysseus’ queen is often portrayed as a woman with her eyes fixed longingly on the horizon and I appreciated how dynamic and capable she came to be in Shecter’s hands.

* Best Moment in A Sea of Sorrow – Fell out of my chair laughing over the whore on Whore Island.*

Xenia in the Court of the Winds by Scott Oden

Scott Oden was a new author for me and I’d honestly no idea what to expect going into “Xenia in the Court of the Winds.” Looking back, however, I want to caution readers from taking this piece for granted. The story is exceptional in both tone and composition and proves one of most thought-provoking submissions in all of The H Team collaborations.

Homer’s Polyphemus is a monster, but the depth Oden gifted his Kyklops turns the original source material on its head while exploring the cultural diversity that characterized ancient Greece. The idea sent chills of excitement down my spine and I thrilled at how Oden used history to authenticate his fiction and challenge his audience with the grim realities of culture clash and intolerance.

* Best Character in A Sea of Sorrow – Writing a hero is easy, reinventing a villain is an art. *

Hekate’s Daughter by Libbie Hawker

I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Libbie Hawker in person, but I’m familiar with her through social media and I love how “Hekate’s Daughter” illustrates both her personality and artistic strengths. 

The story fearlessly dives into feminist ideology, but Hawker is careful to keep the content appropriate to the historic lens of her narrative. It’s a balance few are able to effectively pull off, but the end result is a story that invites the reader to interact with the narrative and take something very relevant from their experience of the material.

* Best Individual Theme in a Sea of Sorrow – Great ideas make thought-provoking fiction. *

The Siren’s Song by Amalia Carosella

According to Greek mythology, a siren is a creature that is half bird and half woman. They’re known for luring sailors to their doom through the seductive tone of their song and though their appearance in The Odyssey is brief, it is without a doubt my favorite scene of the epic poem. Needless to say, the pressure was on as I began reading Amalia Carosella’s “The Siren’s Song.”

This story, more than any of the others, pays tribute to Greek mythology and its influence on ancient society. The collection intentionally avoids the supernatural, but that doesn’t mean its characters don’t believe in the Gods and I loved how Carosella used that to her advantage in "The Siren's Song." There is a tragic symmetry to the piece, but it plays out beautifully and provides some of the most poignant moments in A Sea of Sorrow.

* Best Ironic Moment in A Sea of Sorrow – True to the source material, yet wholly original *

Calypso’s Vow by David Blixt

David Blixt’s “Calypso’s Vow” caught me off guard. Homer paints Calypso as an unconscionable temptress and the idea of jumping into her shoes didn’t strike me as an appealing means of passing the time. I was both hesitant and skeptical which is amusing to admit as it took all of a few paragraphs for the story to knock me clean off my feet.

“Calypso’s Vow” marks a turning point for Odysseus as he comes to acknowledge the wreckage he’s wrought on the world. It’s a story redemption, but it was his lover’s grace and emotional sacrifice that captured my imagination. Blixt effectively redefined Calypso and in so doing, crafted a story that cuts straight to the heart.

* Best Submission in A Sea of Sorrow – Absolute perfection. *

The King in Waiting by Russell Whitfield

Until now, The H Team collaboratives have featured a cast that wanders in and out of multiple stories, but the nature of The Odyssey isolated most of the narrators and placed unusual pressure on the author tasked with anchoring the collection. Shecter penned the "Epilogue," but it is Russell Whitfield who gave voice to the phantom who casts his shadow over each of these stories and ultimately brings Odysseus home.

“The King in Waiting” sees Odysseus facing the realities of his legacy, accepting his role in Ithaca’s misfortune, and setting his kingdom to rights. It is an interesting emotional journey and I quite liked how it played out, but I was surprised at how Whitfield used Amphinomus to temper Odysseus’ triumph. Whitfield’s fleshing out of the younger man creates a bittersweet note in the fabric of the narrative, but I couldn’t help appreciating how he used Amph’s fate to bring Odysseus the direction he so desperately lacked.

* Best Surprise in A Sea of Sorrow – It ain’t over till it’s over. *

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Author Submitted ARC
Read: October 15, 2017

It was a balm to my heart, listening to his devotion to his men. That mention of a wife had murdered me where I sat. Penelope. Had I been a substitute for her, I do not think I could have bourne it. But no. I was a substitute for those he had failed. Those he had broken with. Those he had deserted, or abandoned, or simply been helpless to save. I was his redemption. But not his love.