Review: ‘Cassandra’ by Kerry GreenwoodPosted: October 22, 2014
On Mount Olympus, Aphrodite, the goddess of love, yawned. Even perfection can become tedious. “My lord,” she called to Apollo, “Sun God and brother. Let us play a game with mortals — my power against yours.”
And so Cassandra, the golden-haired princess cursed with the gift of prophecy, and Diomenes, the Achean with the healing hands, become puppets of the gods. Their passions are thwarted, their loves betrayed, their gifts rendered useless for the sake of a wager between the immortals. Doomed, magnificent Troy is the stage, Cassandra and Diomenes the leading players in this compelling story of the city’s fall. Both have found love before, and lost it. Will they find each other in the light of the burning city?
And, if they do, can their love survive the machinations of malicious gods and men?
I originally bought this book — because of the name, obviously — about 15 years ago. Because I’ve been on an Ancient Greek kick lately, I decided to re-read it.
Both Cassandra and Diomenes are healers who’ve had close encounters with gods early on in their lives. Cassandra and her twin, Eleni, are given the gift of prophecy as small children, while Diomenes becomes a healer after his life is saved by Glaucus, healing priest of Asclepius. During his illness, Thanatos, god of death, blesses him.
Maybe these blessings are what made the two the target of Aphrodite and Apollo’s wager. The gist of the bet is that Aphrodite believes she can get the two together, while Apollo is determined to keep them apart. Posiedon and Athena weigh in, wanting to see Troy destroyed in the process (although Posiedon later changes his mind). The whole thing gets very messy, as you can imagine.
We don’t see much of the gods in the book, just in the occasional page of dialogue at the end of a chapter. Mostly, what we see is the poor mortals, struggling with the twists and turns their lives take. Both Cassandra and Diomenes find love elsewhere and lose it, but to me the greater tragedy was the fall of Troy itself. Compared to the culture of the Acheans (Greeks), Troy as Greenwood writes it was a beacon of progress and good behaviour, where women were given equal rights and the gods were offered sacrifices of herbs or precious goods rather than blood. Greenwood takes some liberties with the original myth, so the ending isn’t quite as horrific as it could have been — there is at least a little bit of hope there.
One thing I’d forgotten between readings is just how much sex there is in this book, both hetero and homosexual. For the most part that’s fine with me, although fair warning: if you want a “clean” read this isn’t it. 😉 Also, during some of the war scenes the inevitable rape and treatment of captured women as slaves is quite confronting. A lot of it happens “off camera” but still, Greenwood doesn’t pull any punches.
The other thing that’s quite chilling about this retelling of Troy is Greenwood’s portrayal of Achilles: he is an insane psychopath, far and away the worst of the Greeks. It particularly struck me given I just read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller not long ago, which is a much kinder portrayal. It’s interesting to see such different takes on the same character.
Cassandra is the second book in a trilogy, but stands alone; I’ve never read the other two. If you like gritty, “realistic” historical fantasy, this may be the book for you.