Friday, 29 April 2016

Aeneid VI by Seamus Heaney: review

I've reviewed Seamus Heaney's Aeneid VI in the June issue of The Oldie. Read it here.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

THE KING'S REVENGE

THE KING'S REVENGE, the final volume in the Darkening Path trilogy, is almost ready to be sent for type-setting. It will be published on May 28th 2016. Stay tuned for updates. It features a thrilling journey to the centre of time and space on a quest to save the universe from destruction. Featuring a knight bent on revenge; a demi-god; visions, shifting landscapes, armoured insects and basically quite a lot of derring-do. Now's the time to catch up on THE BROKEN KING and THE KING'S SHADOW.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Teachers' notes for THE DARKENING PATH trilogy


There are some wonderful teachers' notes for THE DARKENING PATH trilogy on the Reading Agency website, available here.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Mary Killen's column in The Lady

I was delighted to see this in Mary Killen's column in The Lady:

"At a book launch I bought, out of politeness, a new children's "thriller" called The Double Axe by Philip Womack (with a child-friendly price of £6.99) set in the world of King Minos of Crete and the Minotaur. I began to leaf through, then could not put the book down, so easy to read it was like being in a trance. You can virtually taste the blood, smell the sea breezes, touch the stone walls of the palace as you run your hands along them, inhabit the strong young body of the 13 year old narrator and feel his fear and exhilaration. The pages almost turned themselves as my brain was effortlessly filled with data normally the preserve of scholarly classicists."

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Review of The Double Axe in Literary Review


Philip Womack’s novels have always woven legend with dark, compelling children’s fantasies set in the contemporary world. In The Double Axe he retreats fully into the dense shadows of classical antiquity to retell the Minotaur myth from the perspective of a teenage Cretan prince. This choice of subject has paid off richly.
Prince Deucalion Stephanos of Crete (known as Stephan), King Minos’s second son, has looked up to Androgeos, his older brother, all his life. But when Androgeos is murdered in Athens, a terrible price must be paid – a blood price, according to Myrrah, the fearsome high priestess who sees auguries in the split carcasses of sacrificial beasts. Myrrah has already called down a curse upon the House of Minos: “The stench of darkness is in your minds. And none of you – none of you – will escape it.” Suddenly elevated to the status of heir and regent, Stephan is acutely conscious of himself as young, unproved and second best. With the help of his resourceful sister Ari, however, he is determined to balk the curse, sift the truth from the court’s poisonous mist of rumour, and find his way to the heart of Myrrah’s mystery.

Womack’s language contains repeated phrases that resonate like Homeric formulae (the mysterious “lines filled with blood”, for instance, that reveal themselves, at length, to be the grooves and passages of the labyrinth itself.) It creates a chiaroscuro vision of bright joy and suffocating darkness, reminiscent of Mary Renault’s earlier Theseus story, The King Must Die. The remorseless zeal of the inventor Daedalus, creating a “machine, powered by sacrificial blood”, and the grim, numinous forces the spilling of this blood might conjure up are set against the simple delights of being alive and human: “herby breads,” “glistening olives and dates,” dancing, music, the love of family and the joy of growing into one’s own skin and learning one’s powers. Little Asterius, Minos’s youngest son, far from being a monstrous hybrid, is simply a disabled child, tenderly care for by his siblings and parents. There are dark forces at work here, but they do not spring from the expected source.

Womack’s work, as ever, is not for the squeamish – Pasiphae’s alleged liaison with a bull is discussed (though not in graphic detail) and reeking animal bodies are laid out, at times, as though the book’s pages are a butcher’s window. But this stark treatment feels truthful, not overdone, congruent with the warlike landscape of the classical setting, in which boys and men must hunt and fight, and girls and women lacerate their cheeks to mourn their loss. Womack’s fifth novel, unsettling, original and absorbing, shows him at the height of his powers.