NOTE: Mythic Memories was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Rogue Blades Entertainment.
Much of modern fantasy is deeply rooted in the mythic traditions of the past (The Lord of the Rings takes a lot of stories from Celtic and Anglo-Saxon tradition in particular, and retells them). However, many modern readers aren’t familiar with the long tradition of heroic literature in the myths of the past. Thus, I was really excited to see this book of Ness’ poetry coming out, which promised to address these Mythic Traditions.
The book is broken down into four sections, focusing on the myths of the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Celts, and the Norsemen. Mixing history and myth, Ness weaves tales of a number of heroes and battles. I thought that the Egyptian and Greek poems were good, but what really won it for me were the second two sections. Having just finished studying Celtic literature, it was neat to see what Ness did with it. And the Norse seem far too often overlooked by general mythology texts, so it was great to see this, especially “Storm of the Tupilak,” a long poem of a crashed ship and the spirit haunting the survivors of a violent crime.
One thing worth noting: not all of these poems would be easy for someone with no background knowledge to pick up on. Most people know the Greek myths, and the Egyptian myths aren’t too obscure, but I know I got a lot more out of the Celtic section from having recently studied it. Not being as well known, these may be a little more obscure to the reader who hasn’t explored them before. However, they are well worth exploring. One would be well off reading the Mabinogion, which has a number of tropes found in modern fantasy (including a certain ring that turns the wearer invisible). Also of import, although Anglo-Saxon instead of Celtic, is Beowulf, which is a true heroic epic regardless (and the Seamus Heaney translation is very readable), but it too carries over much into modern fantasy, including (again) The Lord of the Rings.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the art by Trent Westbrook. Every poem is lavishly illustrated, both from pre-established art, and from Westbrook’s own hand, and all of it is very well done. His art adds a lot to the book.
For the reader willing to wax lyrical for a bit on the tales that enraptured nations, of heroism and courage, duplicity and danger, check out Mythic Memories. And don’t be too concerned if you don’t know much myth, Ness’ verse is sweet reading, regardless.
Now if I could only knock out a modern version of “The Battle of Maldon” before Ness beats me to it…