I’m happy to share my review today for one of my most anticipated reads of 2022. Ithaca by Claire North is the first book in the Penelope series, and I was luck enough to receive and advanced copy. Leslie at Books Are the New Black and I buddy read it and enjoyed the unique perspective!
About the Book:
Author: Claire North
Series: Penelope #1
Page Length: 400
Publication Date: Sept. 6, 2022
Publisher: Orbit Books
Synopsis: ‘The greatest power we woman can own, is that we take in secret . . . ‘
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 have returned, and the women have been left behind to run the kingdom.
Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. Whilst he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that husband is dead, and suitors are starting to knock at her door . . .
But no one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne – not yet. Between Penelope’s many suitors, a cold war of dubious alliances and hidden knives reigns, as everyone waits for the balance of power to tip one way or another. If Penelope chooses one from amongst them, it will plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning and her spy network of maids can she maintain the delicate balance of power needed for the kingdom to survive.
On Ithaca, everyone watches everyone else, and there is no corner of the palace where intrigue does not reign . . .
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They think the greatest poems are the ones of death in battle and the ravishing of queens. But the stories that will live for ever are of the lost ones, the fearful ones, who through bitter hardship and despair find hope, find strength – find their way home.
I’ve been talking about how much I wanted to read Ithaca since last year, and I can’t even begin to explain the excitement I felt when I got an advanced copy of this beauty in the mail. I taught the Odyssey for almost two decades, and I’ve always been curious about Penelope and her story for the twenty years Odysseus was away. How did she fare ruling Ithaca and raising her son? We know the story of the suitors and how Odysseus tricked and defeated them, but Penelope’s entire experience is often glazed over. In Ithaca, her story comes to life, and we see the brutality, heartache, determination, and strength of a Queen.
The story is told from the goddess Hera’s slightly detached perspective. Snarky and often acerbic, Hera brings a unique voice and point of view to the story, and her caustic wit spotlights the inequities between men and women regardless of station, as well as the injustices women face for duty, honor, and the patriarchy.
These are the men of note. We regard them as one might regard a rash – hopeful that it does not spread further – and then move on.
The story follows Penelope, Hera, Clytemnestra, and so many more women who are often glossed over in stories like The Iliad and The Odyssey. It shows the brutality of their existence and the lack of choice women had when forging ahead after abandonment or married to men they barely knew, expected to bow to every whim of their husbands, fathers, sons, and the patriarchy in general. It also shows how many women fought against their oppressors, some in stealthy and secretive ways and others in demonstrative and explosive ways.
I’ve never read a story that has Penelope feeling ambivalence or anything but a deep and lasting love and passion for her husband. In this story, it’s more a deep love of her land and her people, her son, and preserving the life she has carved out for herself. I also like that the book shows her cunning and astuteness and her way of forging battle. Though less demonstrative and assertive than her husband and his peers, it’s just as effective. From the suitors vying for her hand in marriage and the power that comes with it to the pirates threatening their shores to her sister hiding from her vengeance-seeking children, Penelope’s story is complex, filled with impossible obstacles, and riddled with danger.
“This is the world we live in. We are not heroes. We do not choose to be great; we have no power over our destinies. The scraps of freedom that we have are to pick between two poisons, to make the least bad decision we can, knowing that there is no outcome that will not leave us bruised.”
I enjoyed Ithaca and am so grateful to Orbit Books for providing me with a copy. It’s a captivating read, and the writing style is lovely. I look forward to reading more of Penelope’s story in the next book.
- The unique perspective.
- The writing style.
- The themes.
The poets will tell you a lot about the heroes of Troy. Some details they have correct; in others, as with all things, they lie. They lie to please their masters. They lie
He once heard an old soldier say that fighting clean was for fools. First you survive. Then you make up the story of how.
Love is more than a queen might hope for, but the least a woman might do.
No weakness, I breathe. No tears. Only you can straighten your back.
For some, silence is a weakness; for a great queen it is a weapon.
I would recommend Ithaca to lovers of Greek mythology and mythological retellings.