There’s lots to love about this addition to the Greek myths retelling canon. Lots of familiar places and faces but still told in a fresh way.
Series: The Songs of Penelope #1
Author: Claire North
Publisher: Orbit, Little Brown Books
Publication Date: 6th September 2022
Rating: 4 stars
About the 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.
Penelope is, without a doubt, one of the best human characters from Greek mythology. She is held up by later eras as the epitome of womanly virtue, waiting for her husband to return, refusing to take another man despite how likely it is that Odysseus is just not coming home. But she isn’t just passively waiting for his return – she has her own kingdom left to run, but has to meet the balance between expectations of her role, and expectations of men. And she has also been retold – we have The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood – oddly not one of my favourites, but it’s still Penelope’s side.
This book tries to do something slightly different – instead of just being Penelope’s point of view, this tale is told by Hera, goddess of women, mothers, queens. Penelope is one of the last remaining queens in Greece and it is this that causes Hera to take an interest in her, showing respect for her quiet tweaking of threads in the background (very reminiscent of images of Penelope from Madeleine Miller’s Circe), to planning schemes with her loyal maids.
Hera too knows the constraints of men, bound to her brother-husband Zeus, she appears to see something of herself in these mortal women that are forced to operate around the requirements of men. And it appears that mortals are not the only ones to suffer the tempers and patronising attitude of men.
I found this a little hard-going to begin with and it took me a while to settle into the story. In part, that was me waiting to find out what was new, what fresh titbit would I be able to gather about these characters, and that doesn’t start until a little later one when you begin to grasp the scope of Penelope’s ingenuity.
In all, a solid retelling to add to the collection. But I’m ready to move away from characters that are linked to Odysseus now …
I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.