What (if anything) do you like to see in ancient myth retellings?
I’ve noted before that my favorite types of retellings are thought experiments in which ancient stories that transcend time and place are transplanted into a different context. The latest in my “read” pile is The Immortal Game by Talia Rothschild and A. C. Harvey, which I received from NetGalley for review. This young adult novel is set in a Greek mythology-inspired world where the Olympian gods rule and their demi-god children are given a chance to gain immortality, via a test of strength, and join the pantheon. Though events bring characters away from Olympus, the novel’s action remains rooted in the immortals’ concerns, never straying into the mortal realm. As a result, the world feels neither characteristically ancient nor entirely modern, since our familiar technologies are absent.
The story launches with the disastrous immortality test of Galene, a daughter of Poseidon, and a subsequent attack on Olympus for which she is blamed. Desperate to clear her name, she goes on a sea-based quest to recover a precious artifact, joined by her best friend Iyana (daughter of Zeus), the two men who are in love with Iyana (Braxtus and Demitri), and Kostas, a son of Hermes who has already achieved immortality. Four of these perspectives narrate events as they unfold. Overall, the novel has a Percy-Jackson-meets-Six-of-Crows vibe. There are the latter’s camaraderie and romantic tensions with the former’s dangerous quests and non-stop action.
In addition to incorporating familiar mythological figures and narrative elements, the story engaged several ideas that ancient literatures explore. Among the more prominent are those of willingly binding your fate to those of your people as well as aligning your fate to that of the gods, the corrupting nature of power, and the problem of prizing physical strength over other equally important strengths. I could see this being a useful companion novel in a mythology unit and recommend it for readers familiar with Greek mythology, who like action-focused narratives. It comes out on May 25.