DAUGHTER OF TROY
Sarah B. Franklin
Harper Perennial / 432 pages / (May 1, 1998)
Hey! You got your history in my bodice-ripper! You got your bodice-ripper in my history! But, they’re great together! Well, “great” may be stretching it a bit. Well, “a bit” may be… Never mind — just sit back and enjoy a marriage of the historical and the romance novel.
Briseis, daughter of Briseus, heir to the throne of Lyrnessos, would appear to have everything. Unfortunately for her (and most of the other characters in this novel), she was simply born at the wrong time. Life for anyone in this period was short and brutal. Life for a woman was all that and less. On the up side, it was filled with lots of consensual sex, non-consensual sex, and sex with men you just set eyes on five minutes before. And most of the time, you’re chattel. Go figure.
Growing up in the royal family provides some comforts, but Briseis seems destined for a life of pain and loss. To make matters worse, the future is an open book for the princess; she learns at an early age that she is burdened/blessed with the ability to read omens. Her glimpses of the gods’ plans bring her rare moments of happiness and endless grief. She cannot avoid foreseeing the dark times ahead.
The Trojan War is inevitable and Lyrnessos is a small kingdom; the minor players will be swallowed up, regardless of their loyalties.
Franklin’s version of this era is an entertaining one. The writing flows smoothly and maintains the reader’s interest. Colourful, legendary figures, seen in the daily details of the lives, make for high adventure and down-to-earth survival fare. But, like most epics, they offer little more.
Despite “growing up” with Briseis, we learn nothing of the depths of personality. Perhaps, because she has none. Like the rest of the extensive cast of characters (feel no shame at referring to the “People And Places” section in the back of the book), she fairly sparkles with shallowness. The frequent deaths in Daughter of Troy fail to make a ripple on the reader. It is impossible to manufacture any concern or involvement with the pretty or mighty or noble creatures paraded across the page. Briseis, heroine or not, is just another surprisingly clever, unsinkabley brave fairy tale princess.
A princess who has sex at the drop of a mantle, like all her peers. That, oddly enough is not a big draw. Strangely, the sex is not arousing. Orgies read as rather pale action sequences, less enticing than the battle scenes.
But, ignore my petty complaints, it’s a Trojan/Greek romp. If I was a bit embarrassed to be seen with it in public, that’s just the bodice-ripper aspect. Daughter of Troy is a fresh slant on a familiar subject, by an author who has done her research. In fact, the most interesting part of the book may well be the Postscript, where Franklin explores and explains the inconsistencies between archaeological evidence and existing literature. Although she follows Homer’s scrambled record, it’s just possible she comes nearer to the truth than the “classics” forced on us in school.
Certainly, it goes down easier.