I ditched a book called “Promise of Shadows” by Justina Ireland.
I gotta say, when I saw the cover and read the jacket-flap, my first thought was something along the lines of “more like Promise of Awesome.”
It’s about a harpy who avenged the death of her sister by killing the god who slew her. To do this ‘impossible’ task, she used a secret, forbidden power. Now she’s locked away in the Pits of Tartarus, basically a work-camp. But then she reunites with an old friend and learns, bam, she’s the Nyx, a “dark goddess who is prophesied to change the power balance.” Aw yeah, revolution. A harpy as a main character. Bring it on.
But almost halfway through the book I changed my tune. The inaccuracies are stunning. I mean, this book is 99.9% Greek mythology. But then there’s some random other stuff thrown in, too.
Number one being that half-god, half-mortals (which in this case includes ‘magical creatures’ such as harpies and dragons and minotaurs), are called “Vættir.” But “vættir” is a NORSE term for spirits, which the Norsemen then group into different clans, like the Aesir and Vanir (god clans), the Jotnar (giants), the Alfar (elves), and the Dvergar (dwarves). Why would a book steeped in GREEK mythology use a Norse term? Especially since, if use accurately, the term would pertain to both what the book calls vættir and what the book calls Æthereals/Exalteds/gods.
And then there’s some brief mentions of the Du’at (Egyptian) and Folkvangr (Norse) being parts of the Underworld.
The Du’at is the Egyptian underworld, where a dead person must pass through a series of guarded gates (12 gates, passed through by correctly stating the guardian’s name—sort of Rumpelstiltskin type of thing) and dangerous landscapes to read the afterlife. If the dead person made it, then their heart would be weighed. Those whose hearts failed were eaten by Ammit. Those whose hearts passed went on to live happily-ever-after in the paradise of Aaru.
Basically, the Du’at is not a permanent residence. It’s more like a dangerous obstacle course. Or maybe a salmon run. It makes you wonder if the author so much as pulled up the Wikipedia page.
Folkvangr, on the other hand, is a meadow ruled over by the very-important-and-occasionally-confused-with-Odin’s-wife-Frigga goddess Freyja. She, and her meadow, receive half of those slain in battle—the other half goes to Odin and his Valhalla. There’s no mention of Valhalla thus far in the book.
And then there’s a befuddling throwaway line of “I wonder if [Hades] has the power to see the stains on my soul, like Anubis.”
Am I supposed to infer, from all of this, that other mythologies, namely Egyptian and Norse, are real? Because other than these casual asides, there’s no evidence of them existing. And I’m nearly halfway through the book.
AND THEN, even worse, there’s the fact that the author doesn’t seem to know all that much about ancient Greece or Greek mythology.
For one thing, she describes an animal with a lion’s body, an eagle’s wings, and a scorpion’s tail as a chimera. A chimera is part lion, part snake, and part ram. What she describes was clearly a manticore. And she made this even weirder by having one character ask if it was a manticore, and then having the mentor character reply, no it’s a chimera.
And then there’s the fact that a character, a really old female character who supposedly lived during the time of the Trojan War in ancient Greece, was described as wearing a toga. There’s two problems with this.
One: in ancient Rome, tunics were almost always worn under a toga. They weren’t really a stand alone garment. It came, as I understand it, not from the Greeks but from the Etruscans.
And two: ancient Greeks DIDN’T WEAR TOGAS. In colder weather, they would wear an outer cloak similar to a toga called a “himation,” but it was not a toga. Women wore tunics called peplum (singular: peplos). In addition, there was a shawl—for women—called a epiblema, and a short cloak—for young men—called a chlamys. A man’s tunic was called a chiton.
And thirdly: even if the character in question had lived during the Roman times, there are several reasons she wouldn’t be wearing a toga. Number one, they were pretty much for men, particularly high-class men. Number two, they were awkward, cumbersome, and altogether hard to move in. The character is described as running, digging ditches, and fighting, all while in a toga, wearing nothing underneath it. She would not have been wearing a toga.
On a side note, according to Wikipedia (and supposedly the source, Catharine Edwards, “Unspeakable Professions: Public Performance and Prostitution in Ancient Rome”), after the 2nd century BCE, women were expected to wear a sola (over a tunic) to distinguish them from prostitutes who wore togas.
Take this sentence, “Cass stares at the clothes, like she can’t believe people would willingly give up wearing togas.” (page 148). Cass, let me tell you why people willingly, happily, gave up wearing togas. It’s for the same reason you cannot possibly be wearing one in any of your previous scenes; they suck. They’re uncomfortable, unwieldy, and ultimately a pain in the ass—much like this book.