“Medousa” by Michael Butchin



Michael Butchin

I recently had the pleasure of rereading this book, so I’m posting both my original review and my update to it below:

Update: The author has since reworked the novel, and was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the new edition. While I quite enjoyed the original version, I found the new version even more compelling, with an increased focus on the character Medousa’s heartwrenching childhood as a Spartan helot and the emotional connections between her, her mistress/lover, her friends, and Athena. It also delves into the self-blame victims often feel, and how one can unwittingly become a monster, morally or physically. I found this particularly interesting since, as someone who is currently quite severely ill with Lyme disease, I have myself become “cursed,” as it were, and a kind of strange outcast/monster figure in society. While my gaze can’t physically turn people to stone, many people do look away in horror when they catch sight of my face covered by a surgical mask, or my painful shuffling pace. And of course, many people have tried to convince me that if I just thought the right thoughts and repented for my past sins, I would be cured, rather like Tiresias promises Medousa. So while this is a fantasy novel set in the distant past and peopled with gods and monsters, the emotions and relationships it describes are all too real in the present day. A very worthwhile read for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, woman-centered fantasy, or anything about Ancient Greece.

My original review is below:

I was immediately intrigued when I came across this book. I have to admit I’m a sucker for those stories where we get to hear the side of the “bad guys,” and it certainly seems like classical Greek mythology is in desperate need of a retelling from the point of view of the other side, especially when that other side is female. So I absolutely loved the concept right off the bat.

The book is very detailed and well-researched, and for those of us with an amateur love of Greek mythology, it’s a lot of fun to encounter Ajax, Heracles, Helen, and so on and so forth from a different perspective (Ajax is a bashful suitor, Heracles is a drunken screw-up who takes credit for others’ deeds, and Helen is one of Medousa’s friends and protectors). The author freely admits in the afterword that all these characters are thrown together with no particular attention paid to their “actual” chronology, if such a thing can be said about mythological figures, but the effect is (for me at least) a series of delightful cameos by famous heroes. Medousa herself is a very sympathetic character, and her rehabilitation is welcome and overdue.

My only problem with the book is basically that I think that it was good but it could have been great. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but I felt that it lacked a certain element of narrative tension. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what that was, and the best I can do is that we know that Medousa is a tragic figure and that she is inevitably hurtling towards her (unjust) destruction, but in the book this is portrayed as being, to a certain extent, bad luck. Which is entirely realistic–people like Medousa are generally the victims of bad luck–but with the echoes of Greek tragedy reverberating in the background, it was slightly unsatisfying for me. Because we see everything from Medousa’s point of view, we never really get to know why Athena wanted to punish her, which left the story a little bit flat in my opinion.

That being said, overall “Medousa” is an excellent revision of a number of classical Greek myths and well worth the read for those that enjoy myth-based fantasy. Furthermore, the fact that most of the main characters are female warriors of one sort or another as another very refreshing aspect of the book: instead of having a token warrior princess, practically the entire cast is made up of Spartan battle-trained women, Amazons, goddesses, Gorgons, etc. etc…we’re not used to having that many women in our books, and it was yet another good reason to enjoy “Medousa.”

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Buy this book on Amazon.

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