Thursday, 25 June 2009

‘Bring Down the Sun’ – Judith Tarr (Tor)


Every so often I go through phases where, as much as I want to read something, nothing on the shelves inspires me to pick it up and give it a go. Do you get this? How do you work through it? What I’ve been trying to do recently (when I have this problem) is to pick something up that I wouldn’t normally read otherwise. This approach gets me out of a rut (or out of my comfort zone, are they both the same thing?) and I’m always bound to discover at least one hidden gem for every five or six books that don’t work out.
You all know by now that I’m no fan of books where the plot is left to one side in favour of plenty of sex, this just doesn’t work for me at all. I still pick these books up though in the hope that I will find a story where sex and plot live together in perfect harmony. That was the plan when ‘Bring Down the Sun’ arrived in the post and I’m pleased to say that, for once, things worked out just the way I wanted them to...

A young priestess serves in the temple of the Goddess but, deep down, knows that she is destined for greater things. Her feelings (and portentous dreams) are proved to be correct when a trip to the Mysteries of Samothrace leads her to meet Philip, King of Macedon. They are soon married but this is only the start of a journey for our former priestess who will find that there is more to prophecy than sitting there and waiting for it to happen. Not only must the Queen’s throne be won but shadowy powers watch and wait for a child to be conceived. If a son is born then the world may never be the same...

I’ll be honest and admit that the other reason I picked up ‘Bring Down the Sun’ is that it’s a short read (only two hundred and twenty pages long) that looked just the right length for a commute to and from work. Appearances can be deceptive as this proved to be a book that I got lost in for hours, even staying up late last night to finish it.

If you know the story of Alexander the Great then you will know how the tale of Polyxena (our priestess) will end. That’s the problem with works of a historical nature, you know how they will end and that certainly robs ‘Bring Down the Sun’ of some of its tension. The stakes are high but at times I was left wondering what the point was of making them out to be so high when the ending is never in doubt. It also makes the story feel linear; our main character starts at the beginning and whatever obstacles are thrown in her path are not enough to prevent her reaching the end. Tarr gets round this in a couple of ways...

‘Bring Down the Sun’ is a historical novel with a vein of fantasy running through it, magic exists and is fully utilised by priestesses and witches alike. Although the outcome of the story is never in doubt, this element of the unknown was enough to give the story the uncertainty that it needed for events to carry on flowing.
Tarr also gives the reader a captivating main character (Polyxena) for the story, and history itself, to hinge upon. Although Polyxena’s single-mindedness can make her come across as being as one dimensional as the plot; Tarr’s thorough exploration of her psyche more than makes up for this. You come away with a really clear picture of why Polyxena is who she is...

Sex is a really big deal in ‘Bring Down the Sun’ but the beautiful thing (for me!) is that it has a definite part to play other than decoration. Sex is a weapon and it also has its links to the magic that runs throughout the book. Above all though, I found that it complemented the romantic element of the novel in just the right way. There is romance here but it doesn’t get in the way of the fact that both Polyxena and Philip are both individuals with their own agenda for their relationship (just like real life) and this makes it all the more interesting to follow.

I found that although ‘Bring Down the Sun’ had its fair share of problems it more than made up for this through its strong characters and liberal use of magic to keep the ball rolling. I didn’t expect to enjoy this one as much as I did.

Eight and a half out of Ten

5 comments:

xalwaysdreamx said...

This sounds interesting! I'm always up for a "historical fantasy" myself.

Kendall said...

Great review, thanks. I'm intrigued!

Graeme Flory said...

Cheers guys :o) If you like historical fantasy then this could be one for you.

Kat @ FanLit said...

Thanks! I'll put this on my list. I have loved reading about Alexander the Great and I haven't read any of Judith Tarr's work. (Keep meaning to -- I have a few of her books.)

Anonymous said...

You didn't want to read this because you thought it was a romance novel? From an interview I read, I thought it's a very academic historical novel. Haven't read it though, but I wonder where this expectation comes from.