Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
King of Ithaka is a new take on the ancient Greek story of the Odyssey. It's about Telemachos, the son Odysseus left behind when he went to fight in the Trojan War. As the novel begins, Odysseus has been gone for sixteen years, almost as long as Telemachos has been alive. Like boys in all times and places, Telemachos and his friends enjoy watching girls and are beginning to understand that the world is not necessarily a straightforward place that offers easy answers. But this is the legendary world of ancient Greece. One of his friends is a centaur.
In one scene, after a bard tells a story, a character comments, "Nobody expects a poet to tell the truth." It's a clue that things will happen a little differently here than in Homer's Odyssey. After guests in Telemachos' kingdom begin insisting that his mother give up waiting for Odysseus and marry one of them, Telemachos decides to search for the facts about his father. From the beginning, his quest is filled with danger. He consults an oracle better known for killing - and possibly eating - the people who consult her than she is for the usefulness of her advice. Her prophecy, typical of Greek oracles, is bafflingly difficult to interpret - until it proves true.
Telemachos faces one peril after another in his quest, many genuinely terrifying. Although a subplot involving racial prejudice may strike readers as an overused angle on a common theme, except for the target of the prejudice being a centaur, it doesn't overwhelm the story. The ending of King of Ithaka gives Telemachos a strong, satisfying place in a tale where, up to now, he was little more than a bystander. (2010, 261 pages. Recommended for ages 12 and up.)More about King of Ithaka at Powell's Books or Amazon.com