Troy, the storyteller’s Phoenix

By  Kathrin Kobus

Photograph of book cover Courtesy of British Library.

The Phoenix is the bird of mythology, that burns itself up only to rise anew. A symbol that has sparked many artistic references throughout the ages while the ancient story and place of Troy has a hold on the imagination like no other.

Just two examples are Sinead O’Connor’s 30 year-old song about Troy, a phoenix from the flame, with the lines ‘There is no other Troy for me to burn.’ (Echoing Yeats’s poem about Maud Gonne). There is also the Seamus Heaney verse adaptation The Cure at Troy based on Philoctetes by Sophocles.

The topic of the Trojan War demands fascination three thousand years later and far away from the Eastern coast of the Med where Achilles, Odysseus and company were battling to finally win, a ten years war against the Trojans.

Fall of The Phoenix is the title of Daniel Kelly’s first book. It didn’t take him a decade, but near enough, around eight years of writing, rewriting, putting sketches and outlines away and even starting all over again (like the phoenix from the ashes) before he had a draft he felt comfortable to send off to publishers. “I wanted the novel to get out into the public this year, because it’s twenty years since the actual site of Troy was declared a UNESCO heritage site,” he told NewsFour when we met a few days after his book went on sale.

The heroic-fantasy, fiction novel takes the reader back to the place of Troy, with Homer making a fleeting cameo appearance towards the end. “I am not retelling the Iliad. But rather looking at the ordinary soldiers, or people who must have lived through the siege, whether or not it was ten years long.”

Kelly begins his story where the Iliad nears its end, with the duel of Achilles against Hector. It then takes a huge departure from the traditional telling, onto a different path which still leads us back to the familiar plot point of the Trojan horse and the eventual destruction of the city.

He describes in detail, armour, fighting scenes, resulting injuries and wounds plus battle techniques which are a mix of late Bronze age and Spartan legends. It’s a bromance action story of blood, sweat and tears.

The first half focuses on young Diomedes, a 12-year old Trojan boy, who ends up as servant to Achilles. Through his eyes the reader gets introduced to the Bronze Age warrior life from dusk to dawn.

Kelly’s explanation for the absence of woman in his novel is: “I believe most children of the time, boys anyway, weren’t raised by their mothers as it would make them soft, so, especially, rich princes were sent away to be trained by the best. Given they are both on the Aegean, there’s a good chance the two princes trained together and were quite possibly close friends, both having the charisma to lead armies.”

The early duel scene between Achilles and Hector is memorable because of the atmosphere he manages to create as if describing a filmed scene. The Trojan Horse plays its due part accompanied by the proverb ‘Beware the Greeks bringing gifts.’

Diomedes, the boy, regrettably seems to disappear from the story. Kelly’s solution at the end who betrayed whom, who is alive, who gets killed and who barely survives and / or who assumes new identities resolves much of the plot that is only hinted at in events leading up to this throughout the novel.

Ancient myth with a good dose of ex machina near the finale when Aeneas, another Trojan prince, as the accepted mythology goes, sails away from a burning Troy towards the Western Mediterranean with two heroes who will become the founders of Rome. Troy lies in ashes only for another phoenix to rise.

The Fall of the Phoenix  €9.99; author Daniel Kelly; published by Olympia Publishers available from all good bookstores, and online.