Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Genre Character of the Week: Lavinia

Two of my favourite types of stories are those dealing with the Ancient World (see Gene Wolfe’s Soldier of the Mist series or the mysteries of Steven Saylor) and those that tell stories I think I’m familiar with but from a different point of view (Fables is great for this, but my personal favourite is Neil Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples), so my current book, Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin scores on both accounts and gives me this week’s genre character, Lavinia.

Lavinia retells a portion of Vergil’s Aeneid (an epic poem designed for Ceaser Augustus that “shows” a direct connection between the survivors of the Trojan War and the settlers of Rome), from the point of view of a bit character. In the actual poem, Lavinia, (a teen-aged princess) says nothing, but due to a bizarre event (a mystical fire appears over her head) she shuns the proposals of the royals around her and waits to marry Aeneas, the leader of the Trojan survivors of the ten-year assault on Troy described in Homer’s The Iliad.

The story itself follows our main character from an early age as an uncertain teen through to her own reign as a wise queen. There are definitely bits of fantasy throughout the story, but not as many as in the original texts (no gods get personally involved, but she does meet the ghost of Vergil, who won’t be born for centuries after her story takes place).

This is the eighth book I’ve read by Le Guin, and I have to say it now sits at the top of my list of her books (The Lathe of Heaven stands a close second, followed by A Wizard of Earthsea), but I can honestly say this book definitely ranks in my favourites of the last ten years.

A quick note for readers who might not be familiar with the Ancient World: Although I had some knowledge of the source material going in, I’ve never read the Aeneid, but I still found I could easily follow what was happening.

A great read.

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