I took a mythology class in college and have always been intrigued by Greek mythology. I will, however, freely admit that I am not the world's most knowledgeable person on the topic. What I remember about it these days is probably more thanks to Rick Riordan's The Lightning Thief, which I read with my son when it was assigned to him in school last year, than to any recent reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses or the like. But the very little bit I have managed to retain did help me out when reading this particular book.
Caenus is a young man just reaching his majority and he has much to prove to his father, the king, before he will be granted charge of the military. He decides to prove his mettle at a famous contest of skill that has previously been won by the same man several years in a row. While there to compete, he meets an elusive woman with whom he has an immediate connection. Rather than try to find her again after being bested through his opponent's dishonorable move, he and his best friend sail home, determined to train well and excel the following year. After completing the grueling training, Caenus and his family are summoned to the wedding of his opponent only for Caenus to discover that the mystery woman to whom he is so drawn is to be the cheater's bride.
In addition to the human plotline, there are hints of mythology and godly intervention in Caenus' contests as the title suggests. But these are little more than hints, not being fleshed out nearly enough to satisfy. Perhaps the question of why the gods seem to favor Caenus without interfering too heavily will be answered in the following books but it seems an important plot point that is never elaborated upon.
And this is my concern with the book as a whole. It is much thinner than it should be, almost bereft of enough to tie all the storylines together. Caenus is determined and has a loyal friend but we as readers don't see enough of him to think of him as a fully rounded character. To be believable, an all-consuming love should grow out of the characters' interaction, even if they do only meet once. Somehow, this seemed more a deus ex machina, a way to get Caenus to fight Makedon than a real and legitimate love. And really, for me, the training with Kheiron and the descriptions of the challenges at Apollo's Tournament were where this book excelled, rather than detailing Caenus and Kalliste's fledgling love.
This has the bones of a good story but it needs to be fleshed out further. There were echoes of Hercules and of the Odyssey but the epic struggle and the love defying all elements need more to bolster them, make them stronger. Perhaps this shouldn't be the first in a trilogy but rather the first part of a longer single book that incorporates the remaining adventures and grows the existing characters more fully.
Thanks to the author for the opportunity to read this. I will still be passing it along to my son and seeing if I can wrest an opinion from him.