Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
 

Practical Magic

Review

 
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
 

The Man in the High Castle

Review

 
Empire of the Dead by Phil Tucker
 

Empire of the Dead

Review

 

Golden Age by James Maxwell

Golden Age by James Maxwell
5
Book Name: Golden Age
Author: James Maxwell
Publisher(s): 47North
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: May 1, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them meets 300.

No, not, really.

James Maxwell’s Golden Age shares only two things in common with JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: you can find them (the books) at the top of Amazon’s Bestseller Lists and both tell us where to find fantastic beasts. (Confession: I could never get past chapter one of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I haven’t read Fantastic Beasts at all, so I am only assuming from the latter book’s title that it tells us where to find them.)

Golden Age only resembles 300 in that the story in that book one of The Shifting Tides series feels a little like the Peloponnesian Wars: Hellenic city states defended by hoplites and galleys facing the machinations of an aggressive empire bent on world domination. With characters running long distances to warn of attacks through hidden passes, I couldn’t help but think of Marathon and Thermopylae. Round it out with a pantheon of somewhat familiar gods and an oracle, and it definitely has a Hellenistic feel. If not for the aforementioned fantastic beasts and a nifty second world map, I might have mistaken it for a historical fiction detailing the Ancient Greeks against the Persians.

Said fantastic beasts are part of some magnificent worldbuilding, harkening back to other stories where dragons, giants, and ogres, leviathans, and the like once ruled the world, but have since given way to the reproductive fecundity of man. In Maxwell’s work, these are the shapeshifting Eldren, who can appear as humans, but if they remain in their fantastic bestial form too long, get stuck there as primitive Wildren. These roving monsters terrorize human realms, and threaten the tentative peace between mankind and the more sagely Eldren.

The story starts from the perspective of Chloe, the daughter of the First Consul of Athens…I mean, Phalesia. Spunky and proactive, she’s skilled in music, healing, and handicrafts. When a wounded foreign bireme docks in Phalesia for repairs, its brusque admiral, Kargan, changes her life forever. Dion, misfit son of the King of Sparta…er…Xanthos, is also affected by these events. Good at archery and sailing, but not at leading men as second in line to the throne should, his quest will reveal secrets about his past.

Maxwell’s Xerxes is the dying Solan, who as The Sun King, has brought the Ilean Empire to new heights. To do so has meant ruling with an iron hand and conquering with ruthless efficiency, and he is building a gold-plated pyramid in the capital of Lamara. Through some metaphysical explanation that went over my head, this will help atone for the atrocities he has committed and usher him into the paradise of the afterlife. Sounds strange, but powerful men have rationalized egotistical monuments to themselves throughout history. Thankfully, with the exception of such edifices like Three Gorges Dam or Trump Tower, that doesn’t happen in our modern, civilized world.

After a start which I found just a little slow, Golden Age’s pace flows nicely in Maxwell’s easy, flowing prose. The story seems straightforward at first, yet there are hints throughout that set up of one heck of a plot twist at the end.

There is little not to like about Golden Age, and I rate it a 9.888, or about the same as the fried chicken at Michie Tavern in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Footnote One: I also listened to the audiobook, which is spectacularly narrated by Simon Vance. Though I would imagine the Ancient Greeks didn’t speak with British accents, he does capture the feeling of so many Hollywood classics, and it stands in stark contrast to the narrative feel of one of his other works, His Majesty’s Dragon. I do feel, however, that some of the secondary character voices were too similar.

Footnote Two: Golden Age is not for the faint of heart. There are graphic depictions of slow painful executions, which would fall within the cultural norms of Earth’s equivalent time period.

Footnote Three: I’ve finished the entire series, and in each book, the stakes get larger and larger, until the entire world is at risk. We meet new enemies, while old enemies become friends and friends become enemies. Beloved characters will die.

Share

One Comment

  1. Kellie says:

    Thanks for this honest review! I love the humor sprinkled through this commentary and the book seems really interesting. Another one for my ToRead booklist.

Leave a Comment