Rebel with Wings
A dazzling debut novel about Icarus, one of the most fascinating figures in Greek mythology
Icarus plays only a modest role in Greek mythology. And yet his ill-fated flight to the sun, with wings made by his father, has appealed to the imagination for centuries. Marcel Roijaards became fascinated by the boy and portrays him as an enchanting dreamer in this evocative YA novel.
In an abandoned open-air theatre in Crete, six young actors recall memories of their dead friend Icarus, so that he will never be forgotten. ‘We imagine you sitting there as our audience,’ they tell the reader.
These eye witnesses are ‘performing’ Icarus’s story after the events, so there is still room for epic imagination and embellishment. After all, on a stage, it does not seem so unusual to exaggerate the heroic exploits of your best friend or claim that he had special gifts, such as speaking the language of the birds.
The actors remain nameless; they are present only as a group, as a chorus singing the praises of Icarus. And yet you can feel their love for their friend and their sadness at the way his story ended. The book at times employs a clever and affectionate first-person-plural perspective, which emphasizes Icarus’s individualism and his free spirit.
‘I spin a wire with my heart and walk across it like a tightrope artist,’ says Icarus, in the sparkling, evocative language that characterizes this book. He follows his feelings, does not reflect too much, is disarmingly cheeky and full of ideas. Icarus dreams of being able to fly – this theme is subtly repeated – and with all of his captivating tales he brings light to the lives of his friends and his father, the architect Daedalus.
Roijaards makes the original myth his own with his distinctive approach. In his version, Icarus is given a larger role than we ever knew about. Icarus falls in love with Ariadne, the daughter of the cruel King Minos, and plays a thrilling part in defeating the Minotaur. This monstrous man with a bull’s head is locked away in the labyrinth designed by Daedalus, where he feeds on the children of Athens.
The best thing about Rebel with Wings is perhaps Icarus’s infectious zest for life: it bursts off the pages. The touching relationship between Icarus and his father and the gently philosophical lessons about growing up, friendship, devotion and good and evil are added bonuses.