This is the fourth book in Sara Douglas’s ‘The Troy Game’ and whilst some books in a series can be read as a stand-alone, as is usually the case, this book needs to be read in sequence after the earlier ones. This is particularly relevant in the case of this series of books because the key characters are being reborn in each era. An earlier book, for example, was set in the era of the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. This book is set in London in the early 1940s and the traumatic events of the Blitz and is the final conclusion of the overall story.
Brutus, the exiled Trojan prince, has been resurrected as a US Army major, Jack Skelton, who arrives in the capital by train in September 1939 as Britain declares war on Germany. He had wandered the world and the faerie netherworld, called Ringworld, since 1666, the end of book 3, ‘Darkwitch Rising’ when his plans had fallen to ruins. Now he was back in England, where all the earlier books were also set, in an attempt to put matters right at last.
In essence, ‘The Troy Game’ is an enchantment of dance and magic performed in a labyrinthian manner and intended to safeguard the city. The performers are male and female but over their various incarnations various permutations of these characters have sabotaged the game and each other. Cordelia, former wife of Brutus/Jack, went off with another character in ‘Darkwitch Rising’ and had a child by him whilst Brutus/Jack originally murdered his own father, Silvius, for his power and titles.
‘The Troy Game’ seems now to be seen as an evil and this book, the last in the series, is the story of how these disparate and mutually hostile characters come together to try and destroy it as they are weary of their repeated reincarnations into the mortal world. As with earlier books, some of these characters have been re-born as famous figures such as King Harold, Charles II or, in this book, George VI. One character, a female, Caitlin, is the exception, as she wishes to complete the game not destroy it. This will give her power and control over the others.
The outbreak of World War II with all its destruction and misery apparently feeds Caitlin’s power also whilst Brutus/ Jack is undecided about what he intends to do.
The fantasy of these characters out of time is intertwined with the real events of the war starting with Chamberlain’s announcement on the radio regarding the outbreak of war.
Gradually, all the parties assemble. There is a labyrinth, akin to the one at Knossos that existed millennia before but centred on St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The various parties, fragmented into various factions, duel with each other against the backdrop of the Blitz. The characters are given the power to direct the German bombs at each other. Douglass cleverly blends real incidents from the war with her characters. For example, in reality a bomb buried all the entrances to an air raid shelter in Coronation Road and those who did not die immediately were subsequently drowned in the sewage that flowed into the cellar shelter from shattered drains. In the story, several of the characters are incarcerated there through the malevolence of Catling, who is the incarnation of the game itself and thus the prime individual wanting the maze to be completed and to make her power overwhelming as a consequence. The activities of those trying to destroy the game make matters worse and there is a constant interaction between real events and these shadow events with bad things in the otherworld making the death and destruction in this one worse. Finally, there is a conclusion.
I think Douglass does successfully weave the real events of the London Blitz into her story with particular incidents or very heavy raids being given her own slant as their occurrence or severity is claimed to be the consequences of her other world characters taking a part in them. For a further example, famously this happened when there was a very low tide in the Thames and as the water mains were fractured the fires burnt out of control as even river water was not available. She attributes the low tide to the supernatural activities of one of the more malign characters in her story.
I think this is a quite well-written book. I have rather struggled through it because, in part at least, it is some time since I read the earlier books and partly because I am really a ray gun and spaceship man, so fantasy is not my primary interest. Whilst the author draws on Greek myths and legends and blends this with the real events of the Blitz in 1940/41 and I am sure many would find this clever and enjoyable, it was not for me.
(pub: TOR. 606 page hardback. Price: $27.95 (US), $37.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-765-30543-7)