The Hostage

Written by Mary R. DeMaine
Review by Sarah Johnson

Although knowledge of the controversies over the Greek poet Homer may not be necessary for enjoyment of the story, readers should still take time to read the foreword. In Greek, the author explains, the name Homer means “hostage.” Very little is known about either Homer himself or the origins of the two masterworks attributed to him, the Odyssey and the Iliad. Disproving the stereotype that academics turn out dry historical novels, DeMaine, a classical scholar, presents her theories in the form of an entertaining, action-filled tale.

Homer has just arrived on a ship from Ionia, and soon afterwards befriends a young man, Philocleon, who becomes his strongest supporter. Their adventures begin when the two arrive at the home of Philocleon’s boorish father, a local landowner who takes an instant dislike to Homer. The personalities of the two continue to clash until fate intervenes — and disaster strikes.

The novel is one of adventure and discovery, with plenty of local and period color. The author seems at home within the milieu of ancient Greece. Her dialogue is casual and almost modern, but it works. All her characters have definite personalities, but some are simply annoying, and others occasionally act more like the mythological figures of Homer’s poems than real people. Maps of Greece and the islands would also have helped. Still, these are minor quibbles in what is otherwise an educational and pleasurable reading experience.