Iliad review from Middle Grade Strikes Back.

The Iliad



Review from MIDDLE GRADE STRIKES BACK. 27/09/15

My Sunday best this week is not a novel; instead, it’s a Homeric retelling by a renowned author, given yet more depth and meaning by superlative illustration.

Most kids who like reading delve at some point into the realms of Greek mythology; for the enduring popularity of the Graeco-Roman pantheon, you only have to look at Rick Riordan’s best-selling Percy Jackson series, featuring half-human kids with Olympian parentage and astonishing powers, as well as the library-loads of anthologies by luminaries such as Geraldine McCaughrean. The Odyssey, with its variegated cast of monsters and marvels and its sly, indomitable hero, has frequently been retold for children, too (I remember a highly dubious televised version shown at primary school, which, at the time, I adored). But the Iliad, full of bloodshed, anger, and the gulf between men and gods, is a trickier proposition.

To me, Gillian Cross’ Iliad achieves the near-impossible; it conveys the complexities of mortal and immortal motivation within this great poem of glory and death in a clear, direct and memorable register, simple enough for children and sophisticated enough for classically-minded adults. And Neil Packer’s images, full of helmeted heads, towering gods and twining, interwoven Greek script, are breath-taking. The figures’ distorted scale gives the impression (wholly fitting to the source text) that the camera has ‘zoomed in’ on a significant moment on the battlefield, or that the disproportionate gods have taken a casual hand in the affairs of men. Packer’s black ships, his showers of spears, his flattened, twisting heroes and his colour scheme all suggest that the most vivid of black-figure pottery has come to life, transporting the reader deep into the rich, precarious world of the epic.
Cross’ elegant prose, meanwhile, frequently has the impact of poetry: “Looking down from high Olympus, Zeus listened to Achilles prayer. And he granted half of it”. She is adept at giving the reader the essential flavour of Homeric similes (“as loyal and savage as mountain wolves”). This gorgeous, enticing volume provides an introduction to the goddesses’ feud over the golden apple before the opening of the Iliad proper, as well as a look at what happens afterwards – Achilles’ death and the Fall of Troy – and a thought-provoking epilogue, “Is The Iliad a true story?” But the retelling of the poem itself is undoubtedly the main event. From the poignant detail of Hector’s baby son, Astyanax, who cries with fear at the sight of his father’s helmet, to the heart-breaking moment when Priam ransoms Hector’s body from his killer (“I’ve done what no other father could bear – put my lips to the hand that killed my son”), this Iliad is spare, limpid and superb – the work of two masters, equally matched.

Review by: Imogen Russell Williams


Thank you Imogen!


Neil Packer



Wall Street Journal review of the Iliad.






Children who thrill to the adventures of wily Odysseus on Homer’s wine-dark sea—his blinding of the Cyclops, his encounters with sorceresses and Lotus-Eaters—usually have to wait until high school to hear how he was occupied before his homeward journey. No more, with Gillian Cross’s excellent retelling of the first Homeric epic in “The Iliad” (Candlewick, 160 pages, $19.99), an arrestingly handsome volume for readers ages 7-14.

Neil Packer’s mesmeric illustrations work here—as they did in his 2012 collaboration with Ms. Cross on “The Odyssey”—to heighten our sense of both the antiquity and immediacy of the Trojan War. That capricious gods would send divine mists or false dreams to affect human battles seems a distant thing; that men fight, sulk and bluster is as true today as it was 3,000 years ago. Commendably, Ms. Cross minimizes the saga’s gore without losing its force, ferocity or emotional power.

Wall Street Journal

The Iliad, Gillian Cross & Neil Packer: School Library Journal, Review

The Iliad / Neil Packer



Homer. The Iliad. retold by Gillian Cross. illus. by Neil Packer. 160p. Candlewick. 2015. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763678326.
Gr 6-9–Cross presents a fluid and highly readable version of this celebrated tale. The text follows the essential plot structure of the classic work, beginning with Helen’s capture and concluding with Hector’s demise. The book includes an introduction to the Odyssey (retold by this creative team in 2012) and provides brief historical context of the Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean. A helpful spread groups the characters by their allegiance (Greek or Trojan). Cross conveys the various personalities of the story’s many heroes and gods, including jealous Achilles and courageous Hector. The gods weave in and out of the text. Packer’s dreamlike illustrations illuminate the stories with bold, solid colors, the stylized figures influenced by poses and perspectives from ancient pottery. Some white-on-black illustrations are particularly striking, exhibiting strong emotion and movement. Images range in size from one-quarter of a page to full spreads. In addition, the illustrations often include the names of characters and places in Greek script, a nice feature also found in ancient art. The text dramatizes the intense battle sequences, but there isn’t much blood or gore. Central elements of the story, including death and hardship, are presented in a forthright manner. The content and the imagery are appropriate for readers who need something more serious than sanitized versions but who might be a few years away from more mature-themed retellings, such as Gareth Hinds’s The Odyssey (Candlewick, 2010). VERDICT A beautiful, fluid, and action-packed retelling of a timeless classic.–Jeffrey Meyer, Mt. Pleasant Public Library, IA

Signing copies of the Iliad at Walker Books



Spent a very good afternoon at Walker Books on the 10th September with Gillian Cross. We signed 400 copies of The Iliad, ready to go on sale in local independent North London bookshops and at Foyles! available as of next Tuesday (22nd September).