Two thumbs up for Ithaca by Claire North. Historical fantasy.
When you read a lot and then you find a book that knocks your socks off, it can be hard to explain why. I am going to use some words about Ithaca that sound like the Guardian reviewing a Shakespeare interpretation: this book is mature, assured, poignant, witty, and cutting. Since it is a story from Homer retold from the women’s point of view, the comparison to Madeline Miller’s Circe is obvious, and I did love Circe, but this book has a lot more bite to it. It is also a more challenging read: it is trying for some things, and it succeeds. Ithaca is Penelope’s story as narrated by Hera, who is omniscient, but by no means omnipotent, for she, like Penelope, is trying to change the course of history while avoiding the notice of the men who would stop her. Seriously, if you read one “feminist myth retelling” this decade, let it be this one.
All three [queens of Greece] came from Sparta, and shared some of the same mortal blood. One was the daughter of a naiad. This creature of sea and pearl, seeing Icarius, prince of Sparta and brother to the king, bathing one day by the mouth of the river, exclaimed, “Hey, prince, get a load of this!” or words to that effect, and he, with very little forethought, absolutely did. When nine months later she slipped out of the stream behind the palace and presented him with their daughter, he politely accepted the wailing bundle from the naiad’s already departing form, took her to a cliff and serenely threw her to her death. A flock of helpful ducks, who understood that naiads might not want to raise their own children but would certainly be insulted if one was left to die, carried Penelope to safety, and getting the quacking message at last, Icarius took her home to his mortal wife with a jaunty cry of “Dearest one, the gods have blessed us with this fortunate yet mysterious infant! What luck, what!”
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