Book review

The Double Axe by Philip Womack (2016)

Book One of the Blood and Fire Series

Rumour. It's a very powerful thing isn't it. It can be quite hard to know where a rumour first started but when one gets going it can take off like a wild fire. If you are very cunning you can use rumour like a tool, for good or for evil. I think in times of war the authorities might deliberately start false rumours...they might call it disinformation, to confound their enemies. Or they might start false rumours to boost morale amongst their own people. Nowadays a rumour can take off instantly on social media. We might say a tweet has gone viral. And once a rumour has become established it can be quite hard to find out the original truth.

So what do you think you know about Theseus and the Minotaur? It's an ancient Greek myth. We are told that Theseus was a prince of Athens and he was given to Minos the King of Crete as a tribute to right a great wrong. Minos put him in the labyrinth at Knossos to fight the minotaur, a terrible half bull half human monster. We are told that Theseus killed the minotaur with the help of Ariadne who gave him a ball of wool to help him find his way out of the maze. Ariadne was Princess Ariadne the daughter of King Minos.

Rumour or true? Was there really a terrible monster in the labyrinth at Knossos? What did Theseus kill, if anything? And if Theseus didn't kill the minotaur, well perhaps someone else did and someone else must have been around to help Theseus because Theseus was in a desperate position. No one else ever came out of the labyrinth alive.

In fact I can tell you that Ariadne is pretty sparky and anyone would be happy to have her on side. And she has brothers who can be useful in a tight spot. Deucalion Stephanos might be her younger brother but he is heir to the throne of Crete and the Double Axe of his house. He isn't necessarily always on top of events but if you read this book he will tell you in his own words how he came to unravel the curse of the High Priestess Myrrah and maybe help save Theseus and the throne of Crete.

'What is the curse?' asked my father. I could sense the strain in his voice; I hoped that nobody else could. She pointed her finger at me and at my father.
'There is death in your house, King Minos. There are things twisted out of joint. The stench of darkness is in your minds. And none of you - none of you - will escape it.'
A breeze rustled through the trees, and its rushing filled the world.
'I see a confusion full of blood! I see corridors, twisting, turning! Lines filled with blood!' Her voice was loud, ringing, fierce, and an arc of spittle came from her mouth.
'Is there no way out of the curse?' asked my father.
'I see no way out of the curse.'
My father, always a king, bowed to her. He offered to have an attendant lead her on a horse to a resting chamber in the palace, but she refused.
No way out? I thought. No way out of the curse?

Perhaps Myrrha underestimates the power of the Double Axe and the princes of the House of Minos.

Maybe you think a retelling of an ancient Greek myth will be slow, dull reading sprinkled with fantasy heroes and weird monsters that we all grew out of about two thousand years ago? You should try this book. The spare, simple narrative tightens the tension in every page and keeps you reading. There is suspicion, trust, betrayal, and death. Curses, prophecies and magic. Excellent stuff!

What can I read next?

You might think ancient myths are rather dry, overworked stories but these stories are still with us because every time they are retold they have new life breathed into them. I think The Double Axe is full of suspense and foreboding and will keep you turning the pages. We are promised more in this Blood and Fire series.

You might also like to look at this retelling of an Icelandic saga by Melvin Burgess. Now here is a terrifying story of monsters, murder and blood curdling revenge:

You might also enjoy this one by Adele Geras:

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