Book Review: The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies (Martin Millar)

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The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies
by Martin Millar
Soft Skull Press (May 12, 2015)

 

Scottish author Martin Millar, well-known especially for his novel Lux The Poet and Kalix The Werewolf book series, set his newest work, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies in Athens during the Peloponnesian war.

Both Athens and its rival Sparta are exhausted by the ongoing war and peace negotiations taking place. However, not everyone wishes the conflict to cease and several generals and weapon-makers summon Laet, a demi-goddess and bringer of discord. The goddess Athena wants peace for the cities but cannot interfere directly; therefore she sends her ward Bremusa, an Amazon warrior, to stop Laet’s work. And that’s where the main protagonist comes in.

A river nymph should help Bremusa find Laet but she is no longer around—instead, Bremusa encounters her daughter Metris whose most prominent power appears to be creating daisies and buttercups. Meanwhile, the playwright Aristophanes struggles to get his upcoming Dionysia play “Peace” in shape, and a young would-be poet, Luxos, is desperate to finally become a lyric poet. Needless to say that their fates intertwine in an entertaining, fun way.

The beginning felt a little slow and the novel took some time to pull me into the story. Each short chapter centers on a particular character and the opening chapters introduced the characters briefly but contained little story. We have to wait a bit for more interaction between the characters and to learn more about them. However, when we witness Luxos and Aristophanes meet in the first longer chapter, the story starts moving forward. We get a glimpse of the less famous attributes of Greek theatre and a problem that is a serious matter for the playwright and fun for the readers.

After Laet arrives to Athens and Luxos is sent on an unusual secret mission, all the cogs of a story are already in place and we can start a smooth and fun ride through a somewhat different ancient history. I became most interested in the characters of Laet and her servant Idomeneus, whose centuries-spanning feud with Bremusa complicates both sides’ missions. If a story is as good as its antagonists, The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is certainly good, though I would like to learn more about the charismatic demi-goddess of discord. Aristophanes is another very intriguing character; with his cynicism and mood swings stemming from his upcoming play and the uncertainty about the outcome of peace negotiations, he’s delightfully human and believable. His conversations with Socrates or the clever and beautiful hetaera, Theodota, are among the best parts of the book.

Millar’s humor takes many forms ranging from conversational humor to penis jokes (how could a Greek comedy do without them?) or satire, which suits him very well and in a way pays homage to Aristophanes. After all, each of us perhaps sometimes feels like the last sane person in the world and wishes to do something like ride a giant dung beetle to heaven because it’s the most logical thing to do—and why on earth does no one else see that? Millar also introduces most of Athens’ famous personalities of that time and a couple of witty nods to history and mythology. Readers familiar with Millar’s older works featuring Lux The Poet will also spot some “inside jokes”. The greatest fun as well as a gripping resolution then comes with the staging of “Peace”.

Though Millar had previously worked with fantastical elements combined with a satirical note in a modern world settings, he did a good job for ancient Athens as well. The story as a whole was uncomplicated and somewhat predictable but the light tone and well-done satire managed to balance that more than enough. The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is a light, fun read I can honestly recommend if you’re looking for something short and charming to cheer you up, with more serious topics underlying as a bonus. However, if you’re in for deeper insight into characters, complex story arcs or some crunchy food for thought, let the novel wait for when you’re in mood for something lighter. The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies is very much like its titular character: optimistic, light-hearted, and fun.

Find below a selection of works by Martin Millar:

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Julie Novakova

About Julie Novakova

Julie Novakova was born in 1991 in Prague, the Czech Republic. She works as a writer, journalist and evolutionary biologist. She started publishing in English in 2013 (The Brass City; The Symphony of Ice and Dust). Before that, she had published three novels and about twenty short stories in Czech. She also works as a reviewer, columnist and interviewer mainly for the Czech SF magazine XB-1.