I can’t think of a better way to spend a rainy spring weekend than with my nose poked into a good book. I spent this weekend with Fred Saberhagen’s God of the Golden Fleece, the fourth book in his Book of the Gods series, and it was a fantastic diversion. Each of these well-written novels stands on its own, so you don’t have to worry about picking up in the middle. The tales are complete within themselves, yet link easily to the others.
As before, there is a “god-face” involved, and this ought to be explained if you haven’t read the reviews on the previous novels. A god-face is a clear partial face mask which slips under the wearer’s own flesh and embeds itself well. These god-faces are imbued with the powers of the particular god for whom they are fashioned, and whichever human avatar is lucky (or unlucky) enough to come into contact with one will have the powers of that god or goddess. An avatar will have the memories of the previous avatars and the knowledge of the deity as well, thus creating a powerful being.
This fourth novel ties into the third, The Arms of Hercules, by picking up where young Hercules and his cousin were left ashore by the Argonauts. This novel concerns itself with Jason’s hunt for the legendary Golden Fleece and his attempt to regain his rightful place as King of Iolcus. While spending a night on a deserted island, the Argonauts are approached by a naked figure coming forth from the ocean. This man, Proteus, has survived a shipwreck which was brought about by a giant and, after a trial of spear throwing, is invited to join the crew of the Argonauts in their quest for adventure and glory.
Proteus accepts the offer and is warmly welcomed by all, including the austere Jason. His only problem is that he cannot remember anything aside from his name. Life before the shipwreck is nothing but a blank, and when the pieces finally begin to fall into place, Proteus has a hard time making sense of any of it. Nothing wants to fit with anything else, and there is no one for Proteus to confide in on board the Argo; no one he can fully trust, at least.
When Princess Medea meets Jason for the first time, there is another being there to watch over the proceedings – Cupid, who just has to send one of his arrows through the Princess’s heart and complicate the quest even further. Medea falls in love with Jason, and is ready and willing to betray her father and brother without a second thought so that Jason may gain his wonderful Golden Fleece and become a king in his own right. Or perhaps there is another deeply hidden agenda within Medea’s heart and mind, such as fleeing a controlling father and marrying a king who will provide everything for her?
Neither Jason, Medea, nor any of the crew of the Argo realize that there is divine help on their side. Indeed, there is a god amongst the crew. A god helping to pull the oars, a god who will perhaps aid them when it comes time for a few of the more powerful gods to show interest in the Golden Fleece. A god who may be able to outwit and save them from the clutches of the enchantress, Circe.
As with the previous three books in this series, Fred has taken a wonderful piece of mythology and given it new life and meaning. Human machinations play a part in these delightful tales, and it is nice to see that both sides are taken into account. Both the selfish and the selfless are well represented, and Fred’s characters are strong and believable. You won’t want to miss this book!