Odyssey revamp an utter classic

Author: Meredith Tate
Date: 01/05/2011
Words: 641
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Extra
Page: 7
Chasing Odysseus

S.D. Gentill

(Pantera Press, $19.99)

Reviewed by Meredith Tate

IN S.D. Gentill's retelling of The Odyssey, Homer's hero takes a back seat for the ride as literature's most famous journey is transformed into a gripping fantasy-adventure series for teenagers.

After 10 long and weary years, the Trojan War is ended in a single brutal night, as the Greeks invade and the ancient city of Troy falls in a river of blood and fire. Amid the carnage, Troy's loyal protectors, the Herdsmen of Mount Ida, lead as many of its citizens to safety as they can through their underground network of tunnels. But with no way of knowing how the city's seemingly impenetrable walls were breached, the Herdsmen are soon accused of conspiring with the Greeks and their leader Agelaus is executed.

Branded the betrayers of Troy, the remaining Herdsmen flee into hiding. Agelaus's children, however, refuse to allow history to remember their people as traitors and decide to take matters into their own hands. They are certain there is one man who knows the truth behind the sacking of Troy: Odysseus, King of Ithaca. But getting to Odysseus won't be easy, because he's about to sail home across the perilous seas.

And so, in a magic boat given to them by the goat-legged god of the Herdsmen, Pan, Agelaus's four loyal children begin their own journey at sea in pursuit of truth, honour, revenge and the one man who can clear their name. But as Odysseus is thrown off course by the angry and vengeful gods - and his fleet whittled down with each deadly and monstrous encounter - the children realise that the only way to catch a hero is to become heroes themselves and protect Odysseus from his enemies in order to keep the truth alive.

Despite being a journey within a journey, you don't need to be familiar with the original text to enjoy Gentill's clever and lively reworking of it. She does, however, provide helpful updates along the way, pinpointing where Odysseus is at in his parallel out-of-frame adventure. It's the same basic story, of course, but delivered from a radically different vantage point - that of Odysseus's "enemies" and those on the receiving end of his heroic actions.

This revisionist Odysseus is more villain than hero, painted as vain, idiotic and a cowardly liar. Through the eyes of the Herdsmen, even the monsters come across with more sympathy - particularly the female ones such as Circe the sorceress, the six-headed, man-eating Scylla and the Sirens, who act mostly in self-defence simply because their world is populated by men like Odysseus, who turn up one day only to leave a trail of bodies and destruction in their wake. It's a most unusual and dramatic reversal of perspectives that, when paired with a major dethroning of the pantheon's power, forms part of a broader underlying critique that raises many questions about heroism, glory and taking sides in warfare.

Gentill's debut novel, A Few Right Thinking Men (published under the name Sulari Gentill) was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book. Chasing Odysseus is her first young-adult novel and the first in the Hero adventure series.

With its easy-reading style, conventional narrative pacing, running ironic commentary and strong female protagonist, Gentill succeeds in bringing Homer's ancient tale to life for a modern audience, without dumbing things down or turning it into the literary equivalent of Xena: Warrior Princess.

As either a witty postmodern revamp or a page-turning introduction to Greek mythology, it works exceptionally well. And with its cast of smart-talking characters and clever reworking of all the exciting bits from the original, Chasing Odysseus will surely flame the fires of interest in the classics and remind us all why, after many thousands of years down the track, they're still completely and utterly enthralling.

Australian Book Review - Ben Chandler

S.D. Gentill’s Chasing Odysseus provides a fresh perspective on Homer’s The Odyssey for young readers. It focuses on the adventures of Hero and her three brothers – Machaon, Lycon, and Cadmus – during the fall of Troy and on their subsequent pursuit of Odysseus, king of Ithaca, throughout his legendary voyages. The siblings are raised among the Herdsmen of Ida, who are allied with Troy before and during the siege. After the city falls, the Herdsmen are erroneously labelled as traitors. Only Odysseus knows the truth and can free them from blame; the siblings pursue the Greek hero to win the truth from him.

Gentill’s considered prose mimics the heightened tone of English translations of Homeric verse, which may discourage the targeted Young Adult readership, since it often, almost intentionally, erects a barrier between the reader and the characters or action. For readers of Young Adult fiction who can appreciate the complexity of Gentill’s style, who have at least a passing interest in The Odyssey, or who enjoy Tolkien’s prose, this won’t be a problem.

Gentill doesn’t shy away from the fantasy elements in her work. Though not as present as in the original material, the Greek pantheon is a force in Chasing Odysseus, and the magic Phaeacian vessel in which the young heroes travel is, by the end, almost a character herself.

Chasing Odysseus is at its best when it delves behind the curtain of the original Homeric poem. In allowing minor characters and monsters a voice, Gentill provides a contemporary, sometimes humorous, and not altogether flattering critique of Odysseus’s actions and motivations, as well as a poignant reminder that, in the ancient world, you didn’t have to be a nice person to be a hero; you just had to be the last man left holding a sword.


Courier Mail - Gillian Bramley-Moore

This glossy, pacy, teenage-friendly reteling of stories from Homer's epic... Four siblings... are on a mapcap, dangerous mission and survive a smorgasboard of life-threatening blood-spilling scrapes... "

The Sunday Telegraph

"The drama of Greek mythology is repackaged and made accessible for young readers in this first book of the Hero Trilogy..."

Sun Herald - Corinna Hente

Teens on their own odyssey

Ambitious and effective retelling of the epic Greek tale The Odyssey through the eyes of four teenagers on their own journey to hold warrior hero Odysseus to account for his deeds.Odysseus, whose Trojan-horse stratagem brings down Troy after 10 years of war, decides to keep how he won a mystery, instead accusing the Herdsmen of treachery against their long-time Trojan allies.
The leader of the Herdsmen is killed as a traitor, a shame his four children -- daughter Hero and sons Machaon, Cadmus and Lycon -- vow to set right. With the aid of an enchanted ship, they sail after Odysseus and his victorious crew as he heads home to Ithaca.
The teenagers encounter gods and monsters, sail to the gates of Hades, are captured and wounded and left almost in despair.
While it closely tracks the original tale of Odysseus's long journey home, Gentill's tale gives a new perspective on the warrior king.
The young Australian writer's book, the first in a trilogy based around Hero, was shortlisted for the South-East Asia and Pacific section of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for First Novel.

Verdict: modern myth-making

Angela Savage

...excitement and adventure... a highly entertaining read aimed at a young adult market. But the more I read of the ‘young adult’ genre, the more I believe it is so-called to keep the delights of books like Chasing Odysseus a secret from us over-18s. The novel is a wonderful primer for those new to the ancient Greek myths and an imaginative new take for those who know the ropes.



Despite having read ‘The Odyssey’ and having often been disappointed in modern authors attempts to rework old classics I found this book extremely refreshing and addictive. Although I had some idea of the lands or events that were likely to appear in the next chapters I was nearly always surprised and often delighted at the twists Gentill added to the tale.
The character of Odysseus, and his actions throughout the story paint the Ithacan king in a decidedly less favourable, but possibly more believable light, than the mighty hero depicted in ‘The Odyssey’. On the other hand, Hero and her brothers Machaon, Cadmus and Lycon are very human and endearing characters and it is easy to sympathise with their plight.There are also some genuinely witty and humorous parts in the books (some great one liners) where I found myself actually laughing out loud. By necessity the book touches upon some more serious content such as the bloodshed and gritty realities of war. For instance, the book doesn’t try to gloss over the treatment of women taken as prisoners and we are fully aware that the reason Hero’s brothers are worried about her being captured by the Greeks is not because they fear they will teach her unladylike turns of phrase. Gentill somehow manages this without becoming explicit or alternatively insulting the readers intelligence.


Chasing Odysseus was a really fun read. It incorporated many of my favourite elements in stories - adventure, fantasy, Greek mythology, family and just constant excitement! 
I thoroughly enjoyed encountering the many different mythological creatures with the children of Agelaus. And I absolutely loved Hero and her older brothers Machaon, Cadmus and Lycon. 
I couldn't help but adore each of her brothers even more every time they did or said something that showed they love and care for their sister, Hero. Lycon and Cadmus provided comic relief, even through tragic times of adversity. Humour is really important to me so I’m so glad SD Gentill was able to magically weave some in.
And I really must mention that I was delightfully surprised at how easily and how early on I connected with the characters. I immediately adored Machaon, and I literally cried when he took Lycon's place in the beginning! Never in any book I've read have I begun to care so much for characters right from the get go as I did for the sons of Agelaus in Chasing Odysseus.


The heroes, instead of being perfect in every way, have believable characters and faults. I love that. No other book that I’ve ever read has portrayed these characters in such an interesting and enjoyable way.

I loved the four Herdsmen’s dedication to each other, and especially to Hero. I especially liked Machaon, who went through so much and could still keep smiling and questing. I have to say though, that the boat runs close behind Machaon in favourites. A magical boat is something special, and this one is so endearing. I couldn’t help worrying about it when seas were rough.

Rebecca's Reviews

....every now and then, a book comes along that truly catches my imagination and sparks a real relationship between my mind and emotions, and the story and its characters.

Chasing Odysseus is one of these rare finds.

....Yes, I dislike writing reviews and I don’t do it very often. In this case, I wanted to. I would like to share my enjoyment of this truly original book with as many people as I can.