Like Mayflies in a Stream

Written by Shauna Roberts
Review by Ann Chamberlin


Roberts retells ancient Mesopotamia’s Epic of Gilgamesh, the world’s first written tale. Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, oppresses his people until a priestess of the Goddess Inanna goes out to the wilderness and tames the wild man Enkidu to be the king’s friend and equal.

Small press Hadley Rille’s goal with this series is to present “archaeologically-correct historical novels.” Author Roberts mentions in her concluding note how she set about fulfilling this mandate: “Rather than make up something misleading, I’ve given the people of Uruk far more secular and colorless lives than they actually lived.” In this, I have to say she has succeeded. Periodic flashes of fine description – due all to primary sources – only served to illuminate the general tone of lifeless grey through which drab and undistinguished characters moved. I’ve read many an archaeological report that brought more vibrancy to the hole the excavators were digging. Rather then being carried away to the time and place sketchy excavations only partially reveal, I found myself stumbling in badly realized scenes: During, for example, just the first we lose track of an attacking lion for far too long. Other places, the groundwork is not laid for emotional experiences, so the whole loses what was perhaps meant to be barbaric primitiveness and becomes merely anorexic. Finally, no remorse is felt at the loss of archaeological purity when a too-modern romantic ending is pasted on in the final pages.