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One part of an author’s job, especially when writing fantasy, is good world building. In James Maxwelll’s new novel Golden Age (2016. 443 pages), part of his Shifting Tides series of books, this comes very easy as he has just taken the ancient Mediterranean with its Greek and Egyptian cultures firked with the map and changed some names to protect the innocent. On the other hand this means that most of the elements of the world building will resonate as familiar as they are lifted out of history.
Against this background Maxwell adds some fantasy elements in the form of the Eldren, humanoids, who can change into the mythical creatures of ancient Greece. The downside of this ability is that if they stay in their changed form for too long then they remain like this and end up as wild and dangerous creatures.
On the southern side of the Maltherean Sea, that’s the Med to you and me, King Solon is dying. Having consulted all of the wise men, they are of the same mind; the king has cancer, which is very modern of him as the term did not exist before around 1350. King he may be but in order to ensure his entry into heaven he is building a pyramid, covering it in gold. That’s a lot of gold and in order to complete it before his death he has invaded all his neighbours to strip their realms of gold, but it’s not enough to complete the project.
Across the sea, one of Solon's ships docks at Phalesia to make repairs following a storm which has affected the whole area. He meets and is unimpressed by the people of Phalesia, until he discovers that their most important religious artefact is an ark made of gold, presumably fashioned alike to The Golden Ark of the Covenant. Returning home, he kidnaps Chloe, the daughter of the cities leader. However they are followed by Dion, the son of the king of the neighbouring city-state of Xanthos, who has seen Solon's ships and worries that they mean war is not far in the future.
The book can be fairly split into two parts. The first, where we meet Chloe and Dion, gets off to a good starts but by about 20% in the plot is frankly slow and too long. A good half of the first one hundred and fifty pages could have been cut without losing any information. The second half is much better; one of the things that I liked was that the story was all set up for the heroic Dion to rescue Chloe, in fact what we are offered is the flowering of Chloe into a very self-reliant young woman. The story really picks up when both of the young protagonists end up in Ilea.
Overall, it was ok as a novel, there was little in the story that smacked of originality, and apart from the use of a strong female lead, there is a lot of boy meets girl, boy loses girl but eventually finds her again.