Wednesday, January 28, 2015

REVIEW: Agamemnon Must Die - Hock G. Tjoa

***Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Any thoughts and opinions are my own.***

To sail against Troy, Agamemnon sacrificed his virgin daughter Iphigenia. Ten years later, he returns victorious, hoping that Queen Clytemnestra has forgiven him. He is so wrong. 

The royal family of Mycenae has a bloody, monstrous history. Agamemnon returns with his war trophy, the Trojan Princess Cassandra whom he unthinkingly flaunts before his queen. After an epic sword fight in his own banquet hall, Agamemnon is killed. Cassandra has her nightmares/visions of the gory and unspeakable deeds of the House of Atreus; she is led away to be executed. Clytemnestra and her lover Aigisthus have their respective reasons, but this regicide must be avenged. Or so say the voices in Orestes' head. He must avenge his father. He must kill the regicides. He must kill his own mother. 

But killing one's own mother would break the greatest of ancient taboos and would result in even more voices in his head. Are they just voices? Can they be placated?

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Agamemnon Must Die is a retelling of Aeschylus' Oresteia. I definitely recommend reading the author notes in front of the book if you are not that familiar with Greek mythology and works written about it. I am ashamed to say that the last time I really read something that dealt with Greek mythology was in my English 101 class in college. I had to take notes to make sure I could keep up with who was who and who killed who and why they killed them. It's a lot to keep up with if you do not know anything about Greek mythology. 
I did thoroughly enjoy this book because it was more entertaining than it felt like getting a history lesson. Hock G. Tjoa definitely did his research and it shows in his writing. His characters are well-developed and you understand their motives and passions easily. Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife, has never been able to forgive Agamemnon for sacrificing their daughter Iphigenia by order of the gods during a time of war. She's very modern in her thinking that women are important too and shouldn't be treated as mere property. I really admired this about her character. When Aigisthos, Clytemnestra's lover while Agamemnon is off fighting Troy, reveals to her that he finally wants to avenge his brothers' deaths on behalf of his father they begin to formulate a plan to kill Agamemnon. 
One thing I liked about this book is that it like most tragedies, there are no actions without consequences. Aigisthos and Clytemnestra planned on telling the elders they killed Agamemnon and then simply abdicating the throne and handing it over to Clytemnestra's son Orestes. Orestes and his sister Elecktra were sent to live with their aunt while their father was away fighting in Troy. Because he had been gone for so long, when they heard of their father's death, neither of them really knew how to feel. Neither of them really knew their father at all. Vengeance of their father's death had not crossed either of their minds until the god Apollo starts giving Orestes visions and terrible nightmares that are telling him to kill his mother. Orestes will is tested as he questions the gods. 
As far as the actual writing of this book, I liked that it changed from different character points of view in order to give you a more rounded idea of the story. I felt like some things in the dialogue were more for the reader's benefit than the actual character but that didn't really bother me too much since I was grateful to be clued in on all of the Greek scandals. This was a great, fast paced read and I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in history, Greek mythology, or just a good scandalous story. 
About the Author

Hock G. Tjoa was born to Chinese parents and studied history at Brandeis and Harvard. He taught European history and Asian political thought at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. He is married and lives with his family in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California. 

He published in 2010 The Battle of Chibi (Selections from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) that he had translated, and in 2011, Heaven is High and the Emperor Far Away, A Play that he translated and adapted from Lao She's Teahouse. Both are part of his project to make more widely known traditional Chinese values. In 2013, he published The Chinese Spymaster and The Ingenious Judge Dee, a Play

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