Rage. Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles, of Peleus' son, murderous, man-killer, fated to die, sing of the rage that cost the Achaeans so many good men and sent so many vital, hearty souls down to the dreary House of Death.
–Dan Simmons - Ilium - c.2003
Ilium opens with Thomas Hockenberry, a twenty-first century professor, observing the Trojan War on behalf of a Muse. He has been reborn into this world of heroes and gods at the whim of a god or goddess and exists purely on their sufferance. His job, to watch the happenings in the war and report back on whether or not they follow the path he is familiar with from Homer’s Iliad. The second chapter is from the point of view of Daeman, a youngish man at some point in the future, who is visiting his cousin’s house with the sole purpose of seducing her. The next storyline we are introduced to is that of Mahnmut, a sentient machine of sorts, who has been asked to attend a meeting for some mission, although his mind is more occupied with Shakespeare and his sonnets.
Simmons is not an author who talks down to his reader. A few times in the opening chapters of Ilium I did wish he was, as I was very busy trying to figure out what was going on. I usually like being thrown into a created world and having to get to grips with it through the story and the characters, but in this book there are three different plots on the go, and all are very unfamiliar, so it took me a while. Luckily enough I was on the train and so had no distractions that may have, in other circumstances, prompted me to leave the book down. I will admit, in the first chapter or three I was a bit at sea, but soon enough I was completely engrossed. And invested in all the plots, which is unusual. Usually one or perhaps two will catch my attention and when we leave those to another POV I race through the less favoured. In Ilium however I wanted to find out about all the characters and their journeys.
I am sure that I’ve missed loads of aspects of this book, bringing in, as it does, aspects of Shakespeare, Proust, as well as The Iliad which I am slightly more familiar with. This is one of those “literary” books, but at the same time it is full of action and characters, which are sometimes absent in literature, if you know what I mean. I think once I’ve read the second book I’ll go on an in depth internet quest to find out all of the readings & analysis that I’ve missed out on.
But apart of the intertextuality of it all, what you want to know is was the book enjoyable and entertaining. And the answer is most definitely. It has so much going for it, it is unusual and interesting, it is full of questions, about what it is that makes a human. It is well written, and you constantly want to read on, gripping, I believe is the usual word used in book reviews.