This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults. It appears in volume 16.5.
This novel is published here in Vancouver, by a local, family-owned press: Ronsdale. The owners of Ronsdale Press are active environmentalists, and bring their ethical attitudes to their work, choosing carefully what and whom to publish. I wish there were more socially conscious small presses around these days, and that it were easier, financially, for them to stay in business.
Torn from Troy
Patrick Bowman’s Torn from Troy does for Homer’s Odyssey what Karleen Bradford’s There Will Be Wolves (1992) does for the history of the People’s Crusade: it brings to life the legendary event from the perspective of a commoner caught up in a monumental, history-shaping moment. To see what is so often presented in terms of politics and ideologies reflected in the human responses of Bradford’s Ursula or Bowman’s Alexias brings a powerful human component to the narrative, allowing the young reader to begin to appreciate the lives of the people in ancient times.
We meet Alexias as the Greeks finally succeed in sacking Troy. Although Alexias never really understands how the Greeks managed to breach the wall, the reader is given a clue in “something huge and wooden […that] looked like part of a giant wooden bull. Or a horse” (36-7). Subtle allusions to the legends of the Trojan war and Homer’s Odyssey (like “Crazy Cassie” , who prophesizes “the city of Priam, aflame and dying” , while nobody heeds her) are sprinkled throughout the text, but readers unfamiliar with the story might read Torn from Troy and never make the connection, so skillfully does Bowman weave his own narrative through Homer’s plotline. To facilitate a deeper understanding, the publisher has helpfully (and truthfully) noted on the back cover that the novel is “a gritty, realistic retelling of the classic Greek legend of the Odyssey.” Readers who want to learn more will know exactly where to go; the Odyssey is available in a myriad of forms. But none will tell us of Alexias, son of a healer, who travels towards Ithaca with Lopex, more formally known as Odysseus—and we early on become invested in Alexias’s fate.
Young readers will love Alexias’s spirit, and his sharp wit and quick tongue, which get him into trouble often, but help him also to survive the challenges he encounters: the sack of Troy itself; slavery on a Greek bireme; the competition for food and water, even amongst the Trojan slaves. Seconded as a healer to the enemy soldiers, he experiences first-hand the major events in Odysseus’s tale: the raid on the Cicones; the storm at sea; the Lotus-eaters; and the besting of the Cyclops, which culminates in the boasting of Lopex’s real name. This revelation foreshadows trouble (and the next novel), as Alexias tells us: “Odysseus […] wiliest of the Greeks. For someone that clever, giving the Cyclops his name had been foolish. To curse someone, you had to know their name” (196). As expected, the Cyclops calls on Poseidon to wreak vengeance on Odysseus. The book ends with this curse lying heavily over the reader, but presents at the same time a stability in Alexias’s relation with the people around him. While we eagerly await the next book in the trilogy, Torn from Troy does not leave us dissatisfied; it is complete in itself.