I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book in any way.
Published: April 2022
The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them and determines to win, whatever the cost.
Princess of Troy, cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?
It’s no secret by now that I enjoy retellings, especially ones of myths and legends and those focusing on female characters, and with the current burst in Greek myth retellings, I’m certainly spoilt for choice! I had enjoyed Jennifer Saint’s previous book, Ariadne, even if I had some issues with it so I was quite curious to see how she would approach a retelling of Elektra’s story, one which I thought offered even more potential than Ariadne’s.
I saw Aeschylus’ original play performed in theatre all the way back when I was in high school and I read Colm Tóibín’s House of Names a few years ago, so I knew there would hardly be any surprises in the plot, but I was looking forward to a more feminist take on the story, giving these women more of a voice. This time, the author chose to tell the story through three POVs, giving a voice to Cassandra, princess of Troy; Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon; and the titular Elektra, her daughter. If you’re familiar with the original story, you’ll know that all three women had the potential for being very complex characters as they slowly move through life to fulfil their tragic destinies. Unfortunately, this book didn’t quite bring that out for me.
I did like the idea to have multiple POVs and particularly enjoyed following Cassandra’s and Clytemnestra’s perspectives. They took up most of the narrative, leaving Elektra’s to actually be the least developed point of view, both from a narrative perspective and from a character development one. There was really very little insight into Elektra as a character, with her coming across mostly as a whiny, angry, spoiled child who acts exclusively on the basis of her hatred for her mother and the idolisation of her father. It felt as though she did very little beyond sulking and trying to find ways to hurt her mother.
Clytemnestra and Cassandra were slightly more developed and appeared more complex, which is probably what made their sections more enjoyable than Elektra’s. Clytemnestra’s grief, in particular, hit hard, as did Cassandra’s frustration with her situation. In both cases, the ways in which their being women limited their options were nicely drawn out, but still did little to make this feel more than a more modern way to tell the exact same story. It didn’t really feel like a feminist retelling, only like a retelling from a female character’s point of view.
I did appreciate the way the author re-wrote Helen’s character though! One thing that often annoys me in Trojan war retellings is the constant woman-on-woman hate when it comes to Helen, so I was happy to see that for once she was not described as a mean girl and there were multiple displays of solidarity between women.
I listened to the audiobook for part of this, alternating it with the e-arc, and it definitely improved the experience as all three narrators did an absolutely wonderful job of bringing the characters to life! Despite my issues with the characters in Elektra, I still really enjoyed the author’s writing so I’ll be curious to check out her future work to see if this was just a second-book problem.
This book contains mentions of death, war, child death, sexual violence and slavery.