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REVIEW:  Back Across the Styx by Karalynn Lee

REVIEW: Back Across the Styx by Karalynn Lee

“Hades and Persephone have a son, and he’s feeling trapped in the underworld. Bion’s one solace is his friend since childhood, Myrinne, a mortal girl who was adopted by Charon the Ferryman. When Myrinne is kidnapped during a jailbreak from the underworld, Bion’s rescue becomes a chance to experience life in the sunlit lands. He promptly falls in with Spartans who are desperate enough to raise the dead to fight a looming Persian army. But meddling in a war the gods have sworn not to interfere with isn’t likely to put him in Zeus’s good graces — and Bion needs the god’s favor to help Myrinne, who’s turning out to mean even more to him than he realized.”

Dear Ms. Lee,

I grew up reading and reading about Greek mythology. Edith Hamilton’s classic book “Mythology” has sat on my bedside table for over forty years. Reading your delightful novella was just like stepping back in time and re encountering those myths again … but better. It’s full of gods and goddesses, men and monsters, fantastic places and bloody battles where the real and the unreal mingle side by side and are impossible to separate. I only wish I’d read it the month it was released as it would definitely have been a recommended read for February. As it is, it is a recommended read for this year and will probably end up on my Top Ten List for the year.

Back Across the Styx by Karalynn LeeNovellas and short stories are an art form and often difficult for me to read. Too often something gets sacrificed – either detail or emotion or coherence. Here, it’s perfect. This is a fantastic blend of history and fantasy. It’s got a coherent plot, tight story telling, a logical sequence of events, and descriptions which are condensed to the essence yet still enough to clearly convey the thoughts, emotions and actions of the characters. It is focused but complete in the character and romance arcs.

I like the feisty heroine who has been raised slightly differently – to say the least – from the usual quiet and demure young Greek woman of the day. She’s lived listening to the life stories of the dead as they cross the river Styx. She’s heard a lot more than most women and is eager for adventure and a chance to see the upper world. Her natural curiosity leads her on yet her intelligence keeps her out of trouble. When she’s faced with a difficult and permanent choice, her wisdom, despite her youth, makes her decision a simple and easy one.

Bion is a young god who has witnessed his parents’ arguments for as long as he can remember. Their fights have, in a way, taught him how not to pursue romance and married life. He’s also full of his manly youth and eager to prove himself as worthy of honor and acclaim as the Spartans who stood against the Persians still ravaging the Greek homeland. The battle sequences are enough for the story without getting too gory and manticore is hideous and in keeping with the other beasties of myths. Bion is young enough to sulk a bit when unearned blame is laid on him yet clever and mature enough to turn the situation in his favor when he needs to ask for one last enormous boon from Zeus.

The outcome of the romance is obvious from early on. These two are already well matched in temperament, preferences and desires. It only takes a nudge to get them to break free of the Underworld and taste life and adventure – but always together. Healthy young lust is tempered by care and concern for the other. Neither wants to hamper or coerce the other. Bion desperately wants Myrrine but refuses to pressure her one way or the other. His persuasive speech to the gods speaks volumes of his love for her.

“Even if I didn’t desire Myrrine as my wife, I’d want her in my life. She’s my dearest friend. I wouldn’t have survived growing up in the underworld without her.” He’d thought he wanted the fullness of his powers and freedom from the underworld, believing these things would make others see him as a grown man. But they didn’t matter, not compared to the way Myrinne looked at him: with acceptance and tenderness and joy. He never wanted to lose that.

The family concerns are addressed well enough for me to be as at peace about them as are Myrrine and Bion. The fantasy element is handled well making it seem as natural to the story as it does in ancient myths. The storytelling is seamless and seemingly effortless while the romance is fulfilling to watch unfold. After I read the novella once, I read it a few days later just to be sure it still sparkled as much the second time around. It does. A



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Friday Film Review: Clash of the Titans

Friday Film Review: Clash of the Titans

Clash of the Titans (1981)
Genre: Fantasy/Myth/Adventure
Grade: B-/C

I decided to check out this 30 year oldie goldie because today the sequel to the 3D 2010 remake is being released. I haven’t seen that one so I’m not going to compare them but despite the fact that the 1981 version is old school and one of the last hurrahs to stop motion animation, it’s worth checking out if only to see the inventive creatures Ray Harryhousen created.

Basically, the plot is the myth of Perseus (Harry Hamlin) saving Andromeda (Judi Bowker) and having a bunch of adventures – finding Pegasus, fighting Calibos, seeking the Stygian Witches, killing Medusa, killing giant scorpions and defeating the Kraken – along the way as he is alternately helped and hindered by the Gods of Olympus. It’s not the straight myth – what the hell is a Kraken? – but it’s entertaining.

Great cinema this is not. There are scores of great British thespians here but honestly, most of the time they just stand around on Mt. Olympus and look as excited as a bunch of English people queuing for the daily bus to work and pondering what to have for dinner. A few times Thetis (Maggie Smith) gets her panties in a wad over her wretched son who’s basically partied too hard and then gone out on killing sprees thus leading Zeus (Laurence Olivier) to turn him into a satyr but why isn’t Athena (Susan Fleetwood) weaving or Aphrodite (Ursula Andress with only one line in the whole movie) scolding her naughty cherubs for not holding her mirror while she checks out her hairstyle. Hephestus is about the only one shown doing anything as he makes the mechanical owl. When Poseidon (Jack Gwillim) lets loose the Kraken, he’s about as excited as a man letting his dog out in the back yard for its nightly constitutional. With the talent gathered here I expected more. Oh, bonus points if anyone can spot Flora Robson during the course of the action.

Perseus isn’t much better as Hamlin looks pretty but heaven help him if he ever had to think his way out of a paper bag. Perseus really isn’t that bright. Someone at IMDB has done a wonderful job of describing this with a post titled “Why Perseus Was Such A F#*k Up! ! ” Hamlin’s delivery of his lines is also rather flat though he does pose nicely just before he delivers his killing sword thrusts. Thank goodness he meets up with Ammon (Burgess Meredith) who is the real brains of the operation. Hopefully Andromeda, who displays a nice amount of gumption in wanting to go along for some of the adventure before the boys sneak off in the dead of night, has more brains than her foolish, vain mother Cassiopeia (Sian Phillips looking very nice and regal-ish). Did anyone else notice the more than slightly m/m moment when Perseus was mourning the death (and he lead all his men to death, btw) of Thallo (Tim Piggot-Smith)? Just curious….

How does this movie garner a B- rating from me with all the above nitpicking? Simple, the costumes are great, the scenery is pretty darn good and the wonderful Ray Harryhousen delivers some cool creatures. Let’s just run down the list – Bubo the deus ex machina owl, despite having an awful name, is as cute as R2D2 and does half the work of defeating the Witches and the Kraken. Pegasus actually looks good on his own and during the flying scenes – though Hamlin doesn’t work up much enthusiasm while aboard him. Calibos (who is a combo of real actor Neil McCarthy and Harryhousen) is suitably creepy and sullen as he whines to momma Thetis about how he’s been done wrong – and then goes out and does more wrong, himself. Medusa slithers and her snake writhe in one of the tensest scenes of the film placed in the – nicely decorated – dark caverns of the Underworld, her two headed guardian dog looks fairly convincing as it battles Perseus’s men, Charon as a skeleton harkens back to an earlier movie, and the large scorpions are as icky as they oughta be. There’s also a nicely done tidal wave inundation of Argos early in the movie. I was bummed that the Kraken doesn’t have much screen time – for all the build up to his appearance he could have been given more opportunity to menace but I guess the film was running long by then.

Despite creaking along and being 31 years old, “Clash of the Titans” does have its own pre CGI charm. The actors are at least nice to look at though I wish one of two of them had chosen to chew some scenery. Those who have seen both will have to tell me if the new one is better or even just worth seeing. Anyway, this is a good “kick back with a bowl of popcorn” flick for a rainy afternoon.