The Way Home: Ashes of Olympus, Bk 1, by Julian Barr

‘The gods give no more than you can bear. The unfriendly sea shall be your road. A new homeland lies far across the roaring waves’. Kruesa’s ghost to Aeneas, p.44

The first lines of The Way Home plunge us into the night a civilisation was turned to ashes. The Greeks raze Troy.  Trojan leaders are cut down. After trying in vain to save King Priam, young Aeneas fights his way past Ares himself, the god of war, to bring his father and son to the hills where they join the survivors. These, the last of the Trojans, huddle together, shocked by the disaster. Like refugees through the ages, they have no idea what to do, where to go.

‘We need you for a king, Aeneas’, said Mmestheos. ‘The people are ready to make their oaths’. Anxiety crept over Aeneas. P. 41

Aeneas, only 19, is racked by grief for his wife Kruesa, struck down by Hera, queen of the Twelve Olympians, whose determination to wipe out the Trojans knows no bounds. But he must summon the resolve to play the part of a leader. He plans to steal Greek ships, but the land loving Trojan men do not know how to sail them across the dark sea.

asheswayhomejulianbarr 2765
The Way Home, by Julian Barr, takes place in the dawn of western history, among the early Greeks and peoples of Italy. Number 10 on the map shows the site of Troy.

Social boundaries must give way to character and ability. Aeneas takes counsel from all ranks, including commoners – and women. Beroe leads forward her fisher women, and they take charge of the sailing. The Trojans turn their prows toward an unknown world where men and gods alike are hostile. During this search for their new home, Aeneas must dig deep for the courage to challenge the accepted way of things, to do what must be done for the good of all.

This is a great read for anyone who loves seeing the misty times of legend turned into a driving adventure. Lest because of a few spear throws and dented shields this be misconstrued as a ‘book for boys’, I am going to make special mention of recommending it to young women. The female characters outnumber the men, I think: healer Eumela, ‘Little Red’ who will one day become Lavinia, no-nonsense Beroe, tragic Andromakhe, Queen Dido of Karkhedon, the warrior Amata, and more. The entire story, in fact, is propelled by the terrible feud between the goddesses Hera and Aphrodite.

‘Most of our playmates die of the flux by the time they’re old enough for betrothal’. Ankhises, p.63.

With short, fast sentences packed with both action and feeling, Julian Barr , novelist and itinerant bard, turns harpies, cyclops, nymphs and bitter gods into breathing characters.  And Barr is also an historian; he shows us an early world where life for humans was hard, slavery the norm, marriage came early (Aeneas and Kreusa were betrothed at the age of eight) and death came soon.

‘Aeneas.’ Sergostos’s lips tightened. ‘Just don’t die’. Aeneas gave a bark of laughter. ‘You know me. I’m going to live forever’.

Aeneas indeed lives on, in myth and poetry, and now in Julian Barr’s highly readable trilogy, The Ashes of Olympus. The series is based on the latin epic The Aeneid , written by Virgil around 25 BC, that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans.

The Way Home, with illustrations by Matt Wolf and maps by Linc Morse is published by Odyssey Books, ‘where books are an adventure’. And what an adventure this one is!

Available: through BookDepository, and Amazon, and Waterstones, and at Barnes and Noble.

Mark is guardian and blundering typist for Mawson, one of this bright world’s few published bears. He is the writer-bear of It’s A Bright World To Feel Lost In. ISBN: 978-1-922200-44-0