I’ve enjoyed reading Fred Saberhagen’s novels for almost twenty years now. He is very talented, having the ability to breathe life into the worlds which he creates, worlds which become, for all intents and purposes, real, and which many of us would love to live in, no matter the dangers to be found there. His new series, Book of the Gods, which begins with this book The Face of Apollo is highly imaginative and thought-provoking.
When Jeremy Redthorn hears a pitiful cry for help coming from the side of the trail, he pauses before investigating. He has just undergone a heart-rending traumatic upheaval in his life, and has very little confidence in himself or his abilities. After a moment’s debate on whether or not to go and get someone more qualified to help, Jeremy forges on through the brush. This becomes typical of Jeremy throughout the story, intelligent reaction rather than impulsive.
The woman calling softly for help is in grave danger. Her wounds are fatal, although neither of the pair realizes this at first. “Sal,” as she calls herself, is carrying something highly important to mankind, something worth dying for. She plots with Jeremy to escape the small winemaking village, steal a boat and travel down the river to the sea, bringing the “treasure” to a safe destination. However, before their plans can be put into action, the village is attacked by Furies, and Sal dies after handing the small sack with its precious contents over to Jeremy.
Being an honorable young man, and one who is somewhat infatuated with Sal, Jeremy steals a boat and flees downriver. His body afire with injuries received from the Furies, Jeremy does what he can for himself. He opens the small sack, and finds within a translucent half-mask. He has no idea what it is, only that it is important to the world. Then one day, he holds the mask a little too close to his face …
The mask is actually the “God-face” of Apollo, and Jeremy is now the newest in a long line of avatars, although he has no idea what he has become. “God-faces” are rare, only coming about when an avatar dies, and then difficult to obtain. Nobody knows where they came from, or what imbued them with the powers they have, only that they allow the wearer to become one with the god or goddess whose face they wear.
Jeremy deals with the “intruder” very cautiously. He deals with an inner turmoil of guilt, for Sal has asked him to take this “treasure” and hand it over to others more qualified. There is only one way he can complete his promise, and although he fears death, he will do what he must to make good on his pledge. Thus, Jeremy is carried along on a chain of events which would drive some mad or to greed and sadistic tendencies. Jeremy, with his habit of thinking things through, survives his ordeals without suffering either consequence.
The biggest challenge will be in facing his age-old adversary, Hades. The previous avatar of Apollo recently died doing just that. He has no choice but to join the battle, and give it his best. Will Jeremy/Apollo survive this time? Will the fact that he has enabled two of his friends to find and wear god-faces help him? Or will Hades, aided by Thanatos and Cerberus, defeat the youthful avatar? Only the gods themselves know.
See Naomi’s review of Ariadne’s Web: Book of the Gods Volume II.
Fred Saberhagen’s official website is here.