Review: The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.

Series: Women of Troy #2

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Published: August 2021

Pages: 320


Following her bestselling, critically acclaimed The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker continues her extraordinary retelling of one of our greatest myths.

‘Taut, masterly, wholly absorbing. Still one of the greatest stories ever written. A book that will be read in generations to come’ Daily Telegraph on The Silence of the Girls

Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors – all they need is a good wind to lift their sails. But the wind has vanished, the seas becalmed by vengeful gods, and so the warriors remain in limbo – camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, kept company by the women they stole from it.

The women of Troy.

Helen – poor Helen. All that beauty, all that grace – and she was just a mouldy old bone for feral dogs to fight over.

Cassandra, who has learned not to be too attached to her own prophecies. They have only ever been believed when she can get a man to deliver them.

Stubborn Amina, with her gaze still fixed on the ruined towers of Troy, determined to avenge the slaughter of her king.

Hecuba, howling and clawing her cheeks on the silent shore, as if she could make her cries heard in the gloomy halls of Hades. As if she could wake the dead.

And Briseis, carrying her future in her womb: the unborn child of the dead hero Achilles. Once again caught up in the disputes of violent men. Once again faced with the chance to shape history.

My Thoughts…

CW: this book contains mentions of war, violence (incl. sexual), death (incl. child death and murder), slavery, and misogyny.

I had really liked The Silence of the Girls when it came out, so I was looking forward to the story continuing when I heard there would be a follow-up book. Picking up shortly after the events of The Silence of the Girls, The Women of Troy recounts the aftermath of the fall of Troy – and the fate of its women.

This book is just as powerful and hard-hitting as the previous one, and in some ways even more so as the pain of the women cuts so much deeper. War is a nasty, cruel business, and behind every glorious hero lies a trail of death and destruction, innocent lives cut short and severe pain inflicted. And the women of Troy will never be able to forget this.

Briseis is back as our main narrator and, now a survivor of the camp, she takes it upon herself to ease the pain of the new arrivals, helping them in accepting their new lives as slaves and ensuring all of them survive. Meanwhile, Briseis herself struggles to navigate her new position as Alcimus’s wife while carrying Achilles’s son.

As with the previous book, the author does a masterful job of giving a voice to the silenced women of history, not shying away from the brutality and violence of their lives but leaning into their pain and suffering to fully show their strength, resilience and quiet resistance. The cast of women is memorable, each of them carrying her own personal burden.

Helen, despised by all and universally blamed for the war.

Hecuba, old and frail and mourning her loved ones and the loss of her life’s work.

Cassandra, abused time and again and having to find ways for men to deliver her prophecies if they are to be believed.

Andromache, reeling from the loss of her husband and the brutal murder of her infant son, forced to lie with the man who killed him.

Amina, stubborn and proud and determined to homage her king one last time by burying him, whatever the consequences.

And so many, many more.

The Women of Troy hits hard yet manages to tell so much suffering in a delicate, respectful way, restoring the dignity of otherwise forgotten women. Highly recommended to anyone looking for more feminist retellings of traditional myths.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Women of Troy is out next week!

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