Dancing In The Athenian Rain by Katie Hamstead
An insecure teenage girl is forced back in time to Athens, close to the break of the Peloponnesian war.
Now the two main characters are Donna – a modern teenage girl who is abused, mostly mentally, by those around her- and Pellus – an ancient Athenian man who takes Donna in. While I didn’t exactaly love Donna, I don’t think you have to love a protagonist to appreciate them. Just about all her friends and family – save her brother- have abused her. Mostly put downs about her weight and intelligence but I think there was a few occasions with her boyfriend and the creepy doctor where it was physical. She sort of understands there’s something wrong with these relationships – not until much later with the doctor but that’s a whole other matter- but can’t work up the strength to change it. Her being sent back in time is a blessing in that sense, because it takes her away from her abusers. I was really impressed by her linguist skills. She learnt ancient Greek really easily, despite what her grades and parents would lead me to believe. As someone who is terrible at learning languages I was in awe and sceptical about her skills.
Throughout her time in the past she slowly grows stronger and more confident, she stands up for herself and others. Like most heroines she’s a bit self-sacrificing, but I’ve grown used to that. Pellus is good for her in that he helps her grow and is understanding enough to let her have space when she needs it. Luckily for her he wasn’t a typical Athenian, he actually treated women and slaves with a bit of respect. Despite this I just couldn’t see him as a real person. He was just a bit too good, especially when compared with all the other males in the book.
To be honest I couldn’t connect with or visualise any of the characters. They seemed too over the top or leaning towards stereotypes, Dr. Stephens especially. He really is just a mad scientist, one of the reviews on Goodreads called him a discount Doc Brown and I can definitely see that. He is apparently really smart, and his inventions are impressive. He’s able to make teleportation and time travel machines yet has no job, not sure how he gets money now that I think about it. There was an attempt to show some depth to the a couple of the characters – the head slave and Donna’s friend- but most are just one dimensional. The head slave was done ok but when I read Donna’s friend explaining why she’s so over the top, it felt almost like an afterthought.
Speaking of time travel, the method made no sense what so ever to me. It was a bowl of gold coloured liquid that created a time portal and a device – that looked like a clock- was attached to it to control how far back. Something about it just felt really unbelievable to me but that could just be because I’ve never seen anything like that for a time travel device before- can’t help but think of the TARDIS or Doc’s DeLorean. It also doesn’t explain how Donna moves continents while time travelling. She lived in Sydney yet she ends up in Greece. Time travel was used a lot as an ex machina, anything that Donna really needed Stephen’s sent back for her like flashlights, a translation book and disguises.
Writing wise, the story is ok. I didn’t really notice any spelling mistakes but ellipses would have been nice when cutting off speech midway through a word. This happened a few times starting on the first page, instead of looking like the person was interrupted it was like someone forgot to finish the sentence.
As far as historical accuracy went, nothing seemed too out of place. Hamstead could have delved a bit deeper into the relationship between men but I understand that would have distracted from Donna’s story. Though Pellus does make a comment that people would disapprove if they saw a man come out of his tent at night. As far as I know they wouldn’t since he was the general? in a battle so surely people come and go through his tent to give information, and, as my old Classics teacher put it, they were more flexible back then. I did not like the use of Amazons in the story or the playing with mythology towards the end – trying to avoid spoilers but to do with Achilles and Athena. I was fine with them wrongly accusing Donna of being an Amazon or Donna pretending to be Athena in battle, that made sense, but actually having the Amazons turn up felt wrong.
All that being said Hamstead was good at the sex and death parts of the story. The sex was tastefully done and wasn’t glossed over, which I appreciated. I liked how realistic it was. They built up their relationship before going into it and actually got to know each other. The scene at the end of the battle was good as well. I think it accurately portrayed the battle and the clean up of it, the actual description of the corpses and the gathering of the dead sufficiently made me never want to go to battle. The scene was just too short and wasn’t really mentioned again which is a shame.
Overall I’m in two minds about the story. It was ok and I didn’t mind reading it but I just could not connect to the characters and some bits felt unbelievable. Despite this I would recommend this book. It doesn’t go too far off historical accuracy and might be a good way to get into time travel stories.