Tales of the Zodiac is the ambitious literary project of P.J. Hetherhouse, which he describes as "the characters of the zodiac re-imagined as apocalyptic knights of the round table, telling their story one by one". The series is inspired by Celtic mythology, Arthurian legend and, most importantly, astrology but above all, it's a cracking adventure story of epic proportions.
I'm certainly no expert in the signs of the zodiac and their different characteristics - the closest I get is a quick, half-hearted glance at my daily horoscope when I log on to check my emails ! - but I was very impressed by the symbolism in the personification of Gruff "The Goat", the main character in the first book, The Goat's Tale, representing capricorn.
Gruff is the sixteen-year-old son of a goatherd - the first link to his star sign - and as well as being sure-footed and agile, qualities that his goatherding duties have finely honed, he is stubborn, independent, ambitious, adaptable and resourceful. Despite the layers of astrological symbolism, he remains a credible and multi-faceted character and it was interesting to see his personality develop throughout his story.
At the beginning of the book, we see him at school, where he has been awarded a scholarship, refusing to back down and pander to the whims of the king by allowing the podgy and really rather useless (in all things sporty, at least) prince win a sports competition created in his honour. With dogged determination and despite the various attempts to make him quit, he wins the Prince Libran Cup. For his pains, the furious King sends him on a dangerous quest to a distant island to bring back the being who is hailed as the returned Son of God. Along the way, he will meet up with several other interesting characters who become his allies and who will soon get to tell their own stories in subsequent episodes that I'm really looking forward to reading.
The atmosphere is distinctly medieval but at the beginning of the book, during one of the boys' lessons about the ancient artefacts made of a strange lost material known as plastic, we realise that we are actually far into the future, where Mother Nature has resumed control and the human race has regressed back to its feudal past.
The book works well as a stand-alone novel - after the exciting adventure story of the trek, I enjoyed the satirical look at the new religion and its sect-like leader - but there are enough loose ends and hints thrown out to keep up interest in the rest of the series. I wasn't sure how the concept would work but I was actually very impressed - even if the story itself isn't hugely original, the author's storytelling skills make it very readable.
star rating : 4/5
RRP : £10
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.