REVIEW: The Good Greek Wife? by Kate WalkerFriday, August 13, 2010 1:00
Kate Walker has taken the legend of Odysseus, shaken it hard and brought it up to date for this delightful morsel of a story.
It’s fun to see the way Kate Walker has taken some of the ancient Greek traditions of drama and used them in this book. First, the play would traditionally take place over the course of a day, and Walker’s book also covers a brief space of time – three days. All deaths and dramatic action occur offstage – yes, she does that, which concentrates the romance of the book very effectively. And masks. While they don’t actually wear Comedy and Tragedy masks, the two principal characters have been wearing masks up to now.
In true Greek tradition, the action of the book takes place over three days, just as old Greek dramas were to take place in a short space of time. It’s believable, because the hero, Zarek, and the heroine, Penny (Penelope) were married before his sudden disappearance two years before. In the “Odyssey,” Odysseus/Ulysses is away for ten years, but in a romance, this would be very difficult to sustain. Two years seems about right.
In the original story, one of the first I ever read, Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan Wars. He invents the Trojan Horse, which finally turns the tide for the Greeks. That’s all in the Iliad, which is really Achilles’ story. In the Odyssey, Odysseus takes ten years to get home. He has adventures, gets seduced, tricks his way out of many, and when everyone except his wife has given him up for dead, he returns home. Meantime, his beloved wife Penelope is putting off suitors, eager to marry her. She says she’ll consider it when she’s finished his shroud, an elaborately woven concoction. Every night she unravels the work she’s done that day, so it will last forever.
His son, Telemachus, goes off to discover his father and has adventures of his own.
In Walker’s book, after an argument with Penny, Zarek leaves on his boat the “Troy,” for a test voyage. There he is captured by pirates. One pirate claims that he is dead, but Penny can’t believe it. For two years she puts off his stepmother, Hermione, and his stepbrothers, who want to take over Odyssey Shipping, Zarek’s business. Then Zarek comes home. He throws out the people that Penny can’t get rid of and they are left with their central dilemma – the cause of the original row. Penny fell in love with Zarek, but she believes that he only wants her for an heir.
The strongest parts of this story are the ones from the legend. They hold strong and provide the framework for a great story. The weakest are the plot contrivances that are often used by Harlequin authors to move a story along. Namely, amnesia and a Big Misunderstanding. There is amnesia in the original, but it’s not used in quite the same way and without it, the story might have been messier.
In the Greek stories the gods had names and characters, and motivations of their own. They were part of the story, and when they manipulate unfortunate mortals, the actions have a resonance. In the modern romance, the deus ex machina is something that just happens, and doesn’t have a deeper resonance. So the amnesia is convenient, and yes, plausible, given what happens to Zarek, but it doesn’t inform either him or Penny. The Big Mis goes on a tad too long, and seems to be a contrivance, but, and it’s a big but, the action takes place over three days, so it doesn’t drag on and on as it does in some Harlequin books. So it kind of works, although I have to admit it’s not my favorite plot device. But yes, the Big Mis is explained and talked over in the space of three days, so it seems a lot more acceptable.
Oh yes. And, of course, they live in Ithaca, Odysseus’s home.
HMB category romances are, by definition, short. In under 200 pages the author has to make us love the characters, care for them and believe in their dilemmas. It doesn’t leave much room for fossicking about. It’s one reason I enjoy a well-written HMB story, because when it’s done well, the concentration leads to a wonderfully intense romance. But it also means that it’s difficult to achieve depth of character. Since the story is told almost entirely from Penny’s pov, we don’t get much insight into Zarek and how he feels about the situation. Most of his feelings are seen from the outside. I would have loved more from his side of things. But it might have fragmented the story more and spoiled the flow. A longer story would have helped, but the category is strict in its word requirements. I was disappointed not to see Zarek throw out his importunate relatives and Penny’s suitors, but that was done ‘off stage.’
I understand that this story is part of a series of Modern/Presents stories based on ancient myths. The main problem is that few of them are about romance, but stories like Baucis and Philemon, Cupid and Psyche (I think that one is a cert, I just wonder who gets it), Daphne and Apollo and many other of the stories in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” can be adopted. Just not the big, huge myths like Jason and the Argonauts and the Iliad. Do we get winged horses and dragons? I bet they’ll manage.
The other books in the series are Lucy Gordon’s The Greek Tycoon’s Achilles Heel, Catherine George’s The Power of the Legendary Greek, and Robyn Donald’s Powerful Greek, Housekeeper Wife. Checking back, I’ve already reviewed the Gordon, and found that although she’d tried for different, some aspects of the story didn’t entirely work for me. They might work for you.
B+ for bringing a different aspect to the books and for originality. It’s a delightful romance, beautifully written and a confection worth picking up.
The return of the proud Greek husband…
He was declared missing at sea – but now notorious Zarek Michaelis is back and ready to take control! First he’ll see to(of) his business, and then to his wayward wife…
For two years Penny has struggled to come to terms with Zarek’s disappearance. But enough is enough. It’s time to move on… Her proud Greek husband is still as darkly handsome as ever, and the attraction between them is just as potent. But Penny can’t trust Zarek’s motives – does he just want her body and the fortune he left behind…or to try again?