Book Review: “The Firebrand” by Marion Zimmer Bradley

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Fans of The Mists of Avalon will not be disappointed by Marion Zimmer Bradley’s lesser-known novel about the Trojan War, The Firebrand.  With the priestess and prophetess Kassandra as her main character, Bradley paints a striking picture of life in Troy during the Greek siege.  Kassandra is much maligned by her royal family for her prophecies of doom, and is seen as an outsider despite being a princess, daughter of King Priam.  And despite her role as priestess to the Sun God Apollo, she is haunted by doubts about the powers and motives — and even the very existence — of the gods and goddesses.

Through Kassandra’s eyes, we see the great heroes of The Iliad not as Homer revealed them, but as perhaps a sister would have seen them.  Hector is bold and something of a bully, as an older brother might be.  Paris is arrogant and selfish, as a man who makes off with another man’s wife might be.  There are echoes of The Mists of Avalon here; the women – Helen, Andromache, and Kassandra — take the primary roles, while the men are the weaker characters.

Achilles, one of the greatest heroes of Western literature, is seen in the novel for what he probably would have actually have been – a sociopath and a brute.  While Homer seems to delight in Achilles’s quest for glory on the battlefield, Bradley shows us the atrocities the man committed for what they truly would have been – the actions of a man with no conscience or regard for human decency.

With Kassandra’s role as a priestess, religion plays a major role in the novel.  As with The Mist of Avalon, Bradley pays a great deal of heed to “the goddess” figure in her work.  Through several of her characters, including the Amazon warrior queen and the queen of the city of Colchis, she asserts that the Goddess came before the Gods and that women ruled before men.  This is Bradley’s signature theme, and plays out a bit more heavy-handedly in Firebrand than it does in The Mists of Avalon.

The novel is incredibly well researched, drawing on not only The Iliad, but The Odyssey, The Orestia, The Trojan Women, The Aeneid, and much of traditional Greek mythology, as well.  Fans of Greek history and mythology as well as Bradley’s other work will find much to enjoy in The Firebrand.

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