The Set in Stone Trilogy; R.C. Berry, 2010-2013

The SET IN STONE trilogy comprises three books: The Life and Death of Medusa, Afterlife, and Revelation.  The series was written and self-published by R.C. Berry. It is available on Amazon, and I do recommend the first book (though not the rest of the series, as I will explain) if you have any interest in stories about Medousa that are more fleshed out than the meager scraps of myth we have from Pseudo-Apollodorus or Hesiod.

In Berry’s first book, Medousa is depicted as a daughter of the Titans Phorkys and Keto. She is born of the Titans, midwifed by demi-gods and Poseidon. She is then sent to be raised by a mortal woman. As Medousa grows, she becomes a quite unearthly, painfully exquisite beauty, dazzling all around her with her radiance. She is taken to Olympus where she quickly becomes a court favourite, and just as quickly (though unbeknownst to her) becomes a prize lusted after, in what is essentially a three-way competition between Athena, Aphrodite, and Poseidon.

Of course, those of us who remember the older tales know that Medousa is attacked and raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, prompting the outraged Athena to punish Medousa. Up to that point, Medousa also gets herself entangled in at least two love affairs, one of which is with Aphrodite.

From here, Medousa goes off to live in isolation somewhere near Crete, facing innumerable heroes and adventurers seeking her head. She manages to find some respite, but in the end, tired and worn, she actually welcomes the release that Perseus finally brings to her.

This brief outline leaves out much of the richness of Berry’s story; I have no desire to ruin it with spoilers. While the course this story runs is not quite my cup of tea, I still think it well worth reading, and so I would suggest that you get the book and read it. But here, let me now discuss what I liked in particular, what I didn’t like in particular.

What I really liked about this book was Berry’s skillful use of the Gods’ personalities and rivalries creating a situation from which Medousa could not escape. While I am not saying I completely agreed with the portrayals of the Gods, Berry has a far better grasp than I on interpersonal relationships, and what can cause jealousies and rivalries to erupt, and she provides an excellent reason for Athena’s rage at Medousa. What I think Berry gets especially right about the Gods is their utter self absorption with regard to mortals, and their constant seeking out of novelty and diversion, as immortal beings themselves, who must suffer dreadfully from boredom.

I also liked the attention paid to Medousa’s physical beauty. She was, after all, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world.  And I liked the intense, almost warlike rivalries that showed up between Athena, Aphrodite, and Poseidon. Very true to form, when one considers the personalities of the Gods as depicted in myth and legend.

There were a few things I wasn’t over the moon about, however. For one, I wasn’t keen on so much familiarity with the Gods. In my own book, I made sure the Gods remained (mostly) aloof and apart. And I made clear the enmity that the Olympians had with the Titans– One of the major differences in my own novel was that I followed the myths that told of Medousa as a mortal woman from the beginning, and had the Titans adopt her. Of course, that meant that the Titans would become familiar to my readers as the Olympians will be familiar with Berry’s readers. Which brings me to another point that I wasn’t keen on–

There was absolutely no mention made of Medousa’s sisters, Stheno and Euryale. Many of the roles that should have been taken by the elder Gorgons were taken up, in somewhat unlikely fashion, by Medousa’s remaining friends and relatives. And another minor bother for me was that I was not sure how much time was passing from chapter to chapter. And on a final note, I had the impression– almost— of Medousa being a “Mary Sue” type of character. (In all fairness, though, there was a superb scene near the end of the first book in which Medousa, despite being portrayed as a sweet, and still somewhat innocent girl, actually toys mercilessly with a man begging for his life, and then dispatches him, with as much mercy as Athena once showed her.)

All of this said, most of what I did not care for comes down to personal taste. I still recommend the book based on what I did like about it. Its strengths do outweigh its weaknesses. You can find it on Amazon or on Google Books.

However, as much as I wanted to like the rest of the series, I couldn’t. It’s entirely possible that this is simply my own literary tastes, and I don’t want to disparage a fellow writer, so I will try to do this carefully.

For me, things began to decline with the second book, detailing Medouda’s sojourn in Hades. It began well, I thought, in Medousa finally finding respite for a time on the shores of the Acheron, but having to face perils such as her former victims finding here. And later, Zeus, not knowing Medousa’s story and the involvement of Poseidon and Athena, commands Hades to return Medousa to Olympus.

The third book really fails for me as it details Medousa’s journey through Tartarus to find Kronus’ sickle, the weapon with which he castrated Ouranos. Medousa comes back to earth, and aided by Perseus and Andromeda, makes her way back to Olympus to challenge Athena to single combat.

I will not here disclose all the details, for those who may want to read R.C. Berry’s last two books in her Medousa series. But they left a sour taste in my mouth. Minor quibbles included continual errors in grammar (e.g., “She was loathed to leave,” instead of “She was loath to leave.”). Another thing that really disappointed me was the fact that rather than trying to place the story in its own time and place, it seemed as if the characters were simply modern folk, dressed in ancient Greek chitons at a play. There was little understanding of ancient Greek attitudes toward women, men, relationships, and so on. There were training montages that belonged more properly to a modern martial arts film than a classical work. There was a depiction of a library with a fireplace in a palace, as if we were in a Renaissance castle. Books are described as the leather-bound volumes we are familiar with today, rather than the parchment or papyrus rolls of the day. And many attitudes, declamations, and “lessons,” were far too modern for ancient Greece, and some were downright Biblical. Furthermore, many aspects of the Medousa myth as related in Berry’s books, seemed to owe more to Hollywood and pop-culture than ancient myth and legend.

But the worst offense (to me) came with the denouement of the tale, when Medousa has Athena at her mercy: We are offered a choice, as if this were not a novel, but a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. You could chose one path if Medousa showed mercy, and another if she didn’t. I would have been more interested in the author’s own ideas about who and what Medousa was, not an offer for the reader to decide how this pivotal part of the story should read. And to compound this offense, neither choice actually affects the narrative! The threads of the stories meet further on, with no lingering consequences for the reader’s choice.

There is more, including a ‘bookend’ to the trilogy, involving Medousa’s lair and its contents as an archaeological discovery, but I’ll stop here.

As I noted above, it is possible that my disappointment is due more to my own literary tastes and expectations than to the books being objectively bad.

And I do still recommend the first book in the series.

But I am unable to offer the same enthusiasm regarding books two and three of Berry’s series, nor, despite my recommendation of the first book, do I have great enthusiasm for the trilogy overall.

Set in Stoner

 

About Michael Butchin

I was born, according to the official records, in the Year of the Ram, under the Element of Fire, when Johnson ruled the land with a heavy heart; in the Cradle of Liberty, to a family of bohemians. I studied Chinese language and literature at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. I spent some years in Taiwan teaching kindergarten during the day, and ESOL during the evenings. I currently work as a faceless drone in a corporate call center, and am an unlikely martial artist. I have spent much of my life amongst actors, singers, movie stars, beautiful cultists, Taoist immortals, renegade monks, and at least one martial arts tzaddik. I currently reside in my dead grandparents’ house, alone, with an impressive collection of martial arts weapons, where I practice and train daily. I am not currently on any medications.
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