Book Review: The Heroines by Laura Shepperson

About the Book:

ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL meets ARIADNE in this thrilling, evocatively told debut novel, reframing the trial of Phaedra, one of classical literature’s most controversial figures, for the modern reader.

In Athens, crowds flock to witness the most shocking trial of the ancient world. The royal family is mired in scandal. Phaedra, young bride of King Theseus, has accused her stepson, Hippolytus of rape.

He’s a prince, a talented horseman, a promising noble with his whole life ahead of him. She’s a young and neglected wife, the youngest in a long line of Cretan women with less than savoury reputations.

The men of Athens must determine the truth. Who is guilty, and who is innocent?

But the women know truth is a slippery thing. After all, this is the age of heroes and the age of monsters. There are two sides to every story, and theirs has gone unheard.

Until now.

Published by Hachette Australia – Sphere

Released 31st January 2023

My Thoughts:

‘It was not until ten summers later, when Theseus was to come to Crete seeking power beyond what we could give him, that I was to learn the truth: that any man can throw words up into the air, and it is women who must pay when those words land.’

It’s been established that I am a bit of a fan of the sub-genre of feminist retellings of Greek mythology. One thing that I’ve observed with each new one that I read is the fluidity of the mythology – each author bends it and flexes it to fit their fictional retelling and essentially, the myths are just stories anyway, so it’s almost become a choose your own adventure for each Goddess who pops up repeatedly with a different take on her life and end within each new novel.

The Heroines is heaving with feminist rage and is specific in its focus on sexual violence against women. In this, it’s done very well. There is, between every few chapters, a section titled ‘Night Chorus’. These are the whisperings of the women from court, the servants, and their chorus speaks of the violence against women that pervades the court. Initially, the chorus is sympathetic to Phaedra when they learn of her rape, but once she decides to proceed with a trial against Hippolytus for his crime against her, the tide of their whispering turns.

‘I felt sorry for her before, but she has made our lives harder. Why could she not be quiet? Do you even believe her? I heard she had her eye on him from the start. We all saw her follow him round the court. She is expecting his child. Maybe she made all this up to convince Theseus that she was not unfaithful while he was away. Princesses can bring trials. But someone still has to make their beds, and lie in them, too.’

See what she made him do. She deserved it because of what she was wearing. She asked for it because she tempted him. Women turning on women when class/privilege comes into play – this was sharply demonstrated with the Night Chorus sections. They made this novel for me, they were so cleverly written and inserted at all the right places.

The only thing that let this novel down for me was that it had a large cast of characters, and all of their perspectives were told in the first person. Now, it’s not the number of perspectives that bothered me, it was the use of first person exclusively. I didn’t find there was enough to distinguish one character from the other and I was constantly checking back to remind myself of whose view I was currently in. I’m not a fan of first-person narration, it can have its place within certain novels and with certain characters, but to have such a large cast and to write all of them this way needed greater character development and more unique voicing for each of the characters in order to succeed. I do feel this technique let the novel down immensely and it has affected my rating.

If you are a fan of feminist retellings of Greek mythology, then you probably won’t want to miss this one.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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