I received a review copy from the publishers in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: yes - first book
Seventeen years ago, King Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them has returned, and the women of Ithaca have been left behind to run the kingdom.
Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. While he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that her husband is dead, and suitors are beginning to knock at her door.
No one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne—not yet. But everyone waits for the balance of power to tip, and Penelope knows that any choice she makes could plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning, wit, and her trusted circle of maids, can she maintain the tenuous peace needed for the kingdom to survive.
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
This book is so good. As soon as I started it on the train, I knew I was in for an exceptional read. The focus! The prose!
This is not the story of Odysseus’ return (I guess that’s going to be the next book as this is the first book in a duology) but rather it is the story of what happens before. The men have left for Troy and all the other nations’ rulers have come back (or their successors have), but Ithaca is still without its king. It is the story of Penelope carefully balancing the expected role of queen against her own survival as suitors crowd the home hoping for her hand (and her husband’s throne), protecting her son, and the kingdom as pirates rate. And she does all of this behind the façade of a meek woman, the ideal in the minds of her society.
It is a twisty book, with lots of different threads of Greek mythology woven in alongside inventions of the author’s (played as “these are the things not considered heroic so the poets never sing of it.”) There are so many threats, pretty much every event spawning a series of routes with terrible outcomes that Penelope has to walk.
The book itself is narrated by Hera, in many ways the forgotten goddess of Greek mythology. Athena and Artemis are the “cool” ones, usually favoured over Hera. The narration is so scathing of all the gods, particularly Zeus, playing on the diminished role of Hera compared to some of the earlier mythologies. Similarly, the book focuses on the women and has little good to say of the “heroes.”
It’s told in an omnipresent third present (with first person for Hera’s take on things) which lend the book a bit of a literary feel. The book is also very much a historical/general fiction book, like all the Greek mythology retellings that have been coming out in the past five years (I vacillate on what I want to classify that body of works as!) It’s not a fantasy book in that sense (despite the publisher.)
Read my reviews of other books by Claire North: