CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 41. . . .June 20, 2014
Moon of the Goddess.
Rio Rancho, NM: PRIZM/Torquere Press, 2013.
228 pp., trade bk., $18.00.
Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.
Review by Ruth Latta.
"Eyes the color of amber, nose straight, and chin strongly formed." Eurynome ran her fingertip along Melanion's cheekbone. She smiled when he pulled away from her touch. "You must be the girl's brother. She expects you to be on a ship, you know."
"How do you know that? Is my sister safe?"
"For the moment, yes. But she arrives in Ephyra tomorrow," said Eurynome. "Which means you need to get there."
"I'd have been there yesterday if it were possible," said Melanion. "Allow us to use the tunnel and I will free her from the clutches of that so-called prince. He will pay."
"It's Poseidon you need to worry about, not Aphoron," said Eurynome...."She will be offered as bride to the god to buy the future of the valley."
..."You should not have let my sister get caught in the middle of a fight with a god." Melanion glared at Eurynome.
"Perhaps you might try talking to Poseidon," said Eurynome. "You have worshipped at his temple."
Eurynome waited, watching Melanion with eyebrows raised. When he did not respond to the challenge, she smiled wryly. "It would not help if you offered a bull at his shrine. You don't have anything the god needs or wants at the moment... That Earthshaker does not care about the people...just about the power he will gain when another community turns to his worship. He does not even care about Thalassai, though he will enjoy her beauty for a time. I will do what I can to help you keep her from Poseidon's clutches."
Moon of the Goddess, Cathy Hird's first novel, draws on Greek mythology to create an adventure in which the gods intervene in the lives of mortals. The story opens with Thalassai, teenage princess of Tiryns, awakening in the dark cabin of a ship. She can't remember getting there; the last thing she recalls is a walk in her father's palace with a visitor, Prince Aphoron of Ephyra, and partaking of a drink. When Aphoron enters the cabin, he praises her beauty as if she were a trophy, then informs her that her home city-state is far behind them as they head for Ephyra. When she says that her brother, Melanion, will come after her, Aphoron says he will tell both their fathers that she "enticed him to take her."
Later, when Thalassai persuades a sailor to leave the cabin door open, she sees two wooden figures, one on either side of the door. One is the sea god, Poseidon, with his trident. The other is a figure of a mature woman. When Thalassai prays silently to her, she seems to communicate in return. Later, Thalassai overhears a dialogue in which Poseidon says that she is to be "his offering", with the female goddess replying, "When they get home to my valley, we'll see."
Back in Tiryns, the king sends a fleet to Ephyra to take Thalassai back from her captors, and he also allows his son Melanion, with a companion, to leave on horseback to increase the odds of rescuing the princess. The two riders eventually come to a village where they meet two woman healers, one of whom is Panacea, daughter of the famous healer, Asclepias. There, the young men first learn of an ongoing struggle between the Eurymone, goddess of the fertile valley supplying food to Ephyra, and the Olympian gods, such as Poseidon, who seek to draw worshippers to themselves, and who are growing in power.
Young readers may have heard of the Olympian pantheon, but they may be unaware that human beings worshipped female earth/nature goddesses in prehistoric times. In the era depicted by Hird, faith in the earth mother is being supplanted by belief in male deities. The change may be associated with the rise of commerce in what had formerly been an agricultural economy.
Hird's academic background includes studies in folklore and in St. Paul's communications with early Christian communities, including those in Greece. She has travelled to Ephyra and walked in the canyon where the Acheron River has its source, the setting of her novel.
As the novel develops, readers learn that Aphoron did not capture Thalassai for his own pleasure, but on instructions from his father, King Kratos, in consultation with his steward, Pluno. They plan to give her to Poseidon, the sea god, and wanted a foreign girl, rather than a local one, to prevent outrage in the community. The Acheron River is low, providing little water for crop irrigation, and Poseidon, who controls storms and earthquakes as well as the oceans, has promised help. His conditions? He wants a lovely young bride, and he does not want the kingdom to "attend to the Mother in any way."
Poseidon faces a formidable opponent in Eurynome. She is a mother goddess and a Titan, of the race produced from the mating of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky). According to the poet, Hesiod, this race of giants was overthrown by another race of gods, the Olympians. Eurynome was the Titan goddess of water meadows, rivers and pastures; her emblem, like that of the healers, was the snake. In this novel, she is a warm figure who appears off and on to Thalassai to keep up her spirits. To save Thalassai from the fate being planned for her, Eurynome creates a blood red harvest moon which alarms and fascinates its beholders because it is out of season. She communicates with her priestesses at various shrines. These strong women, inspired by her, aid Melanion in his quest, and show Thalassai, after she lands in Ephyra, that help is at hand.
Some of the male characters are practical and courageous. Others are lecherous and power-mad. Poseidon, the villain, makes a dramatic appearance near the end, declaring that the power of kings is rising while that of the "old mother" and her followers is declining. He promises to stop the earthquakes if he is given "this lovely woman", Thalassai.
The earthquakes have interfered with the river's underground course and have caused its reduced flow, thus endangering Ephyra's food supply. When Melanion and Panacea enter a tunnel at the river's source as a shortcut to Ephyra, they face a situation where rock shifted by the quakes may have blocked the tunnel route. Ongoing rumblings threaten more underground shifts and raise the possibility of their being trapped. Their journey becomes a descent into Hades' kingdom and an encounter with a ghost who met her end because of Poseidon.
In the information sent with the review copy, Cathy Hird notes that her novel has strong female characters and shows "alternative strategies to deal with conflict" and "speak[s] to the concerns of modern life." Tiryns and Ephyra do not go to war over the abduction. Rather, the principal characters have a heated, but productive, discussion about the situation in the valley, a conversation that shows military expansion as a threat to prosperity and the natural environment. These issues are very current in the 21st century. Kudos to Hird for exploring her themes in an indirect and intriguing way.
In showing a culture with an earth mother goddess, and in making Eurynome so impressive, Hird makes a strong, yet subtle, pro-woman statement. The intervention of supernatural beings on behalf of mortals, however, undercuts the power and capability of the human characters. Although Thalassai behaves assertively, even confrontationally, to Aphoron and never loses faith that she will be saved from a fate worse than death with Poseidon, she is more passive than active throughout the novel. The plot doesn't give her the opportunity to fight off, outwit or escape her captors.
The sheer number of characters, and their exotic names, make be hard for young readers to keep track of and pronounce. "Selene" and "Della" are familiar enough, but "Kylaros", "Kratos", "Pluno" (not "Pluto"), "Asira", "Echidne", "Dermios", "Styphelos", "Gryneus", "Phaecomus", "Galacion", to name a few, don't come trippingly to the tongue.
In the end, the younger characters find their soul mates. Since one couple sets out on further adventures, I suspect that Cathy Hird is writing a sequel.
Ruth Latta's "tween" novel, The Songcatcher and Me, is available from firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Currently she is working on a sequel.
on this title or this review, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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