Wednesday, February 2, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Argo by Mark Knowles

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

I’ve read quite a few retellings of myths and legends over the years, and I’ve heard of Jason and the Argonauts and knew bits of the story. But I’ve never read a novel focused on Jason, so I was interested in this retelling, Argo by Mark Knowles. Knowles is a Cambridge classicist, who clearly knows the story well.

Unfortunately, this was rather a slog to get through. It’s a very detailed narration of the adventures of the Argonauts on their way to Colchis to steal the Golden Fleece. Despite the dangers and numerous battles, and despite the fact that many of the individual scenes are interesting, on the whole, the book dragged.

In a nutshell, Jason was challenged (by his uncle, who had usurped Jason’s father’s throne) to go steal the fleece in order to win his parents’ freedom. The challenge is meant to be a fool’s errand that will rid the usurper of the upstart challenger. Jason gathers together a motley crew of quarrelsome misfits, who somehow are able to defeat various armies along the way. The Argonauts band together, more or less, when they have to fight, but never form a cohesive unit. Rather than reading as a focused journey, with a cumulative rise in tension, the adventures seem rather aimless random bumps in the road as they wander their way to Colchis.

Jason is a weak leader, though he is a strong fighter. Aside from Jason’s self-doubts, there isn’t much depth to the characters. When Jason finally meets Medea, she morphs too quickly from a witch-like goddess worshiper who despises men and terrifies the suitors her father pushes at her into a sexy young girl who melts for Jason. 

Although tempted numerous times to give up on the read, I nevertheless pushed through to the end. I was curious to learn about Jason’s saga as a whole. So it was especially frustrating to read 566 pages and reach the point where Jason finally steals the Golden Fleece, only to have the book end with “to be continued.” They haven’t even completed an escape from Colchis. Although I admire the scholarship behind the effort, it didn’t engage me as a novel.

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