Book Review: Ithaca by Claire North

About the Book:

Seventeen years ago, King Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the isle 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’s empty throne – not yet. But as everyone waits for the balance of power to tip, Penelope knows that any choice she makes could plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war.

From the multi award-winning Claire North comes a daring, exquisite and moving tale that breathes life into ancient myth and tells of the women who stand defiant in a world ruled by ruthless men. It’s time for the women of Ithaca to tell their tale.

Published by Hachette Australia

Released September 2022

My Thoughts:

Feminist retellings of Greek mythology are being released so frequently now, you could consider it a genre all on its own. Ithaca is a feminist retelling of the ancient myth of Penelope, who was weaving at a loom for years and said she’d choose a suitor once the shroud she was weaving was completed, yet she would unpick her stitches each night, therefore delaying for another day having to choose a replacement for her missing (presumed dead) husband, who also just happened to be the King of Ithaca. Despite being Penelope’s story, the novel itself is narrated by Hera, who is, according to ancient Greek religion, the Goddess of marriage, women and family, and the protector of women during childbirth. According to myth, she is defined by her jealous and vengeful nature in dealing with those who offend her. Within this novel, the author really taps into that, and we are treated with a narrator who tells us the story with a heavy amount of sarcasm and a good deal of irony, which honestly, was entirely amusing and on point.

‘The gods are foolish and blind – 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 did find this novel a hard one to get into. I enjoyed the narration right from the start and the overall tone of the novel, but in the first half, there were a lot of characters and different story threads to get a hold of. Hera was a flighty narrator, not always just telling Penelope’s story, but also wandering off and telling many other ones, and a lot of these characters had names that were similar. It’s not an ideal novel for just picking up and putting down for a quick read here and there. Once I was able to just sit with it and read large chunks, I began to enjoy it more and also appreciate the world building as well as the intent of the author. I believe this novel is the beginning of a series, so perhaps with all the foundation laid in this first novel, subsequent ones will be easier to get into from the outset.

‘If the kings of Greece find out that you are thinking of raising an army – women – and army of women! – if the suitors find out…’

‘They will not. No one will.’

‘How do you hide an army?’

‘Medon,’ Penelope tuts, ‘what a foolish question. You hide them in precisely the same way you hide your success as a merchant, your skill with agriculture, your wisdom at politics and your innate cutting wit. You hide them as women.’

Overall, if you are a fan of feminist retellings of Greek mythology, you should add this one to your list. I have liked others more, but in the end, I enjoyed this one enough to mark the forthcoming second novel in the series as one I will be reading.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: Ithaca by Claire North

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