How many of us read Greek myths as children: stories of the Trojan War, the gods, and their mischievous adventures? I know those were some of my favorites, and, to this day, I love retellings of ancient Greek tales. Roberta Gellis's Thrice Bound is an excellent retelling of this kind. She borrows her characters from the myths, incorporating the gods, like Artemis or Apollo, as highly Gifted mortals who are called gods by the un-Gifted. Thrice Bound, sequel to Bull God, is a retelling of the story of Hekate (sometimes spelled Hecate), who, in the Greek pantheon, is the goddess of magic and was worshipped at crossroads , which she traveled in the companionship of a pack of black dogs, a motif adapted by Gellis in a highly original way. Thrice Bound is a sequel to Bull God in that their stories take place about the same time in the same world and feature some of the same characters, but the plot of Thrice Bound is independent from the previous novel, which told the story of Ariadne and her brother the Minotaur.
The title of Thrice Bound relates to the triple vow Hekate must labor to fulfill. At the beginning of the novel, Perses, Hekate's father and the greatest mage in all of Ka'aanan, has ordered her to murder the Queen of Byblos and take her place at the King's side, so he can rule the country through her. Hekate, who agrees that the cruel Queen deserves to die, complies, and prepares to infiltrate the Palace. Later that day, she receives a message from her mother, Asterie, telling her that Perses is preparing a compulsion spell -- when Hekate returns, she will be forced to carry out his plans.
Hekate flees, stopping to visit Dionysos, whom she rescued when he was an infant and subsequently bound herself to protect. Dionysos, one of the main characters in Bull God, tells her of a Vision he had, of Perses using blood magic to raise an otherplaner creature called a guhrt to follow and recapture Hekate. Warned, Hekate flees for the Caves of the Dead, where her father's magic cannot function. The guhrt follows her, and Hekate makes a stand, driving it back . . . but not without great loss of strength. In her fury, Hekate vows that she will punish her father, and is bound twice. In the caves, she meets a young man named Kabeiros, who is bespelled so that he turns into a blind dog whenever he leaves the cave. Hekate, who can work magic by drawing power from the earth's blood, swears that she will find a way to dissolve the curse . . . and is thrice bound.
Thrice Bound is filled to the brim with magic, suspense, humor, and romance -- especially in the scenes describing Hekate's travels through the Mediterranean. She journeys to search for Kabeiros' cure in the guise of a widowed herb-wife who wishes to become a healer. Many scenes describing Hekate's mishaps while practicing magic are quite humorous, but, although she does not know it, she is under magical compulsion from her father to learn -- and remember -- as many spells as possible, in order to bring them back to him. The blend of humor and suspense is excellent!
Like much of Gellis's work, Thrice Bound manages to be thought-provoking as well as entertaining. I loved her explorations of Hekate's bindings, her freedoms and obligations. At the heart of this foray is Gellis' re-creation of the world of Greek mythology, which give Hekate's bindings the power to trap her. Hekate has sworn to destroy her father's power, but she can't kill him because the Furies -- referred to in the novel as the 'Kindly Ones' -- do not permit blood to be spilled between kin. Yet somehow she must keep her oath, or it too could destroy her:
Kabeiros frowned. "But what if you don't fulfill the oath? You can stay here and never see or hear from your father again."
Now it was Hekate's turn to sigh. "You can't ignore a binding. It grows tighter and heavier until your body fails and your spirit is broken." She took his hand in hers. "That's why I know I must break your binding . . . I would stay if I could. You are the only friend I've ever had, Kabeiros . . . and I'm afraid to go alone, Mother knows where . . . I'm afraid." Hekate's voice died to a whisper.
Hekate is bound by her feelings as much as she is by the oaths themselves.
Although the novel as a whole is wonderful, Thrice Bound has some drawbacks. The writing, in places, is unnecessarily convoluted -- especially in the first chapter. The first few pages contain a tedious description of Hekate journeying to her father's workshop, along with some hefty infodump in order to get the reader "up to speed" and informed of what has happened -- all of which would have flowed better had the story begun a day earlier. It is important not to be put off by the slow opening, since the rest of the story flows quickly. For those who like to sample a novel before buying, Baen has a 7-chapter excerpt available at their Web site. Also, Hekate's bindings are integral to the story, but I find that, later in the book, she takes them a bit too lightly, even forgetting them at times. Perhaps this is explainable because she travels, healing people and teaching magic. Maybe it's because the novel follows her for nearly ten years.
My chief complaint about Thrice Bound concerns the character of Perses. Too many speculative fiction novels rely on cardboard cutout villains, with no redeeming values whatsoever, who do horrible things to innocents for their own ends. They are evil just for the sake of being evil. Unfortunately, Perses happens to be a villain of this kind. It is annoying, but does not detract from the novel too much since Hekate is traveling the world in search for a spell to cure Kabeiros for much of the story.
Despite these flaws, Thrice Bound is definitely worth reading. It has everything I look for in speculative fiction: the dialogue is witty, the settings are lush, the characters, with the exception of Perses, are well-drawn and believable, and the descriptions are crisp. I would recommend Thrice Bound to anyone looking for a good speculative fiction novel to read, from teens to adults. It has the elements that give it universal appeal -- romance, action, suspense. Hekate is a heroine who is larger than life and yet realistically believable. She travels in search of a cure for her friend, yet is sworn to defeat her father and protect a young boy, a task that is nearly impossible . . . and she succeeds against insurmountable odds.
Roberta Gellis has a self-maintained Web site with an extensive bibliography, publication list with links to Amazon.com, guestbook, news archive, and contact information. She has published books in other genres besides speculative fiction, including mystery, romance, and nonfiction; she is a well-published author who deserves more recognition than she has received.
Heidi Elizabeth Smith is an avid reader of speculative fiction. In writing this review, she was happy to apply her three favorite hobbies -- reading, writing, and running the computer.
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