The Golden Cockerel: A New Odyssey

Written by Kenneth Allen
Review by B. N. Peacock

Kenneth Allen’s subtitle could also read A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Quest. Tongue-in-cheek, The Golden Cockerel chronicles the trials of one Gaius Petronicus, Roman farmer. In the year A.D. 53, Gaius’s good harvest is overshadowed by a bad omen: a bat. Still, all goes well until he bets with Calitorius Temidis at the games. Calitorius is an aristocrat with a bad attitude, which worsens when he loses thirty thousand dinarii and a slave boy (who is really a girl, a young Christian named Justa) to Gaius. Unable to renege on the bet, Calitorius has his ruffianly cousin Rufus kill Gauis’s mistress, his wife, his cook, destroy his farm, and kidnap his only child, Portia.

Counseled by a good witch, armed with a magic sword, accompanied by a motley crew (including Justa, a Saxon, a decrepit soldier, a drunken sailor, and gods both pagan and Christian), Gaius sets off in hot pursuit, invoking parodies of Gilbert and Sullivan and the Bible along the way. Only the pursuit is not so hot: ‘minor’ delays such as buying and refitting a ship, finding a crew, securing the Emperor Claudius’ sanction, braving a legion of extra-legal mishaps, and finding a new wife, all manage to slow Gaius down. Readers of light fiction will enjoy the rest.