Rating: 3.75 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest stories in the world, carved in stone over four thousand years ago. It tells the story of a king, Gilgamesh, who ruled the city of Uruk with an iron fist. The gods created and sent to Gilgamesh the man Enkidu to distract him from oppressing his people and the two became friends. Together, they went on to slay a demon, Humbaba, piss off the goddess Inanna, and take an epic journey looking for immortality. In the Midst of Omens is a retelling of this ancient story, only with a dash of romance between Enkidu and Gilgamesh.

In this book, the first of the Legacy of Gilgamesh series, Gilgamesh isn’t a tyrant. Instead, he’s an earnest, hard working man who wants to protect his people, strengthen his city, and maybe conquer the world as a treat. He knows all of his 100 soldiers by name and makes certain to praise each one individually; he has many wives and children, but he doesn’t sleep with them unless they wish a child. Then, he’ll do his marital duty; otherwise, they just get to live in the palace and have happy lives, so long as they are respectful.

Gilgamesh walks a tightrope between being a near god (three quarters of one, at least) and being somewhat mortal. It puts him at a great disadvantage in regards to the goddess of Uruk, Inanna, who demands worship and praise … and wants to take Gilgamesh as a husband so that they can create a divine child who will replace Gilgamesh as king when he’s old enough and Inanna is able to kill Gilgamesh. So far, he’s put the goddess off, but it’s been getting harder and harder. It’s building up resentment, fear, and anger, causing dissent in his house because he isn’t doing what the gods ask, and leaving many of his wives and advisors in fear of the future.

Of his own children, all too mortal, Gilgamesh keeps his distance. He’s afraid that if he allows himself to be seen caring for one, loving one, Inanna will kill them to spite him. He solves this problem by loving no one, having no favorites among his children, and only praising and demanding respect for his first wife, Shamhat, who is a friend and advisor, and his favored queen. If he could say the words, think them, he would call her beloved, but to do so might cause her death.

Gilgamesh is a man constantly living in fear, paranoid about everything he loves, and pushing away those who would love him. Instead, he throws all his passion, all his efforts, all his hopes and dreams into his city, into his empire. He wishes to create a legacy that will echo through history, to have every man born know the name of Gilgamesh and the city of Uruk. He clings to it so tightly that he wouldn’t know how to let go even if he wanted to.

And so he’s given Enkidu, a man from the wilds who — like Gilgamesh — is divinely born. He’s someone strong enough to stand against the king, to argue with him, to fight with him, and to withstand the pressure of his divine strength and his love. It’s a slow burn for Gilgamesh who wants, so badly, to believe that Enkidu means what he says, is only what he claims to be, but Enkidu is a gift from the gods and the gods always have their own motives and their own plans, plans that Gilgamesh refuses to listen to, rules he will not obey. It’s a push and pull of want and fear, of anger and admiration, but it didn’t work for me, because of Enkidu.

My problem with Enkidu is that he isn’t a real person. He is, as he is told again and again, a created thing whose sole purpose in life is to love Gilgamesh. He enters into the story with no personality, being a blank tablet for Gilgamesh to carve upon, with no experience beyond Gilgamesh and no goals other than to do as he is made to do. He is a character moved by the plot rather than someone to move the plot. He is a character with no arc and no growth or real depth, and I found him boring and predictable. What you see is what you get, and his ability to make friends is greater the closer he is to Gilgamesh. After all, the king likes him, he lives in the palace, he’s had sex with the queen and the king didn’t mind, how could you not want to be his friend? But those relationships and glimpses of Enkidu beyond Gilgamesh’s shadow never really take shape. He’s just feels… there.

I appreciate the efforts the author made with Gilgamesh, and the glimpses of the city and its culture, and of the gods and their worship were interesting. But anything with Enkidu just left me uninterested. The writing is long-winded in parts, and the pace is leisurely, slowly wandering about until it’s time to actually take action — and that in the last 30% of the book or so. It’s nice to see a book picking up The Epic of Gilgamesh and making Gilgamesh an interesting character. But the romance fell flat, for me, and the pacing made it hard to keep my interest in the book.

If you’re interested in picking this book up, be warned that it ends on a cliffhanger!