Score: 90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
The Age of Heroes by Mikhail Gladkikh is an ambitious historical-fiction/mythology novel that follows multiple Eastern Mediterranean civilizations as they come to blows while under the influence of aliens (“Soarers”) whom they perceive to be gods.
This book is truly distinctly ambitious and epic in scale, both to its benefit and detriment. There are times when there definitely seems to be too much going on. There are also times when the book seems to lack focus. However, it most certainly isn't dull or boring, and there's a lot to sink your teeth into.
This book takes place during the Bronze Age around the Mediterranean. Several space-faring aliens come upon the Earth and humanity, contemplating how they will go forward with their plans (and, at times, lack thereof). For the most part, the aliens (perceived as gods by the humans) seem to view humanity and their planet as a game board to play and experiment on. It's a little bit along the lines of The Iliad, which is certainly a direct inspiration for the novel, even prominently featuring the Trojan War.
There are a lot of conflicts going on in this book from the conflicts between the feuding Greek gods (Zeus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Poseidon), the aforementioned build up to the Trojan War, the conquests of the genocidal and religiously-fanatical King Ninurta of Assyria, King Echeleos's bids to pimp out his gorgeous Hittite daughter to form political alliances, and Khay's awakening of an ancient evil in Egypt.
Achilles is in here as well as Hercules.
It is possible to find some depth and intrigue in these various conflicts. However, what actually stood out to us was the father-daughter relationship between King Echeleos and Princess Elhi-Nikkal. Princess Elhi-Nikkal almost seemed like the main character in this chaotic, ensemble cast of characters and their various issues. She seems to be the most down-to-earth character in a cast of alien-gods and kings. She is vulnerable enough to add tension to the story yet strong and clever enough to be a compelling protagonist.
This book seems to be written and constructed for lovers of mythology and history. With that said, as lovers of mythology, there were aspects of this book that really bothered us. First and foremost, the characterization of Zeus is just plain wrong. Zeus or “Commander” is ridiculously humble and neutered. He constantly reminds the other characters that he is not a god and can be killed like anyone else. He is also incredibly good-natured, overly so. Keep in mind that this is Zeus, one of the naughtiest and controversial of all mythological characters—a character who slept with pretty much everything under the sun, whether they were willing or not. That's not even mentioning the number of characters he tortured, dismembered, and murdered in Greek mythology. Suddenly, he's portrayed as a nigh-perfectly benign and benevolent being in this novel. That really bothered us. If you're coming into this novel to see an authentic portrayal of Greek myth, then this isn't it.
However, it is its own unique take on the mythos and genre.
There's a lot of action and drama in this book including some big battles and duels, something which fantasy and epic lovers will be happy about.
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