Probably more of a 4.5 but I'm rounding up.
I knew this book had great reviews. But I never had it on my tbr because I don't gravitate towards Greek mythology retellings as I do towards the Indian ones. But when the audiobook of this was on sale, I couldn't resist buying. But it still took me a while to get to it and I'm genuinely upset that it took me this long. This is not a book that deserves languishing on any bookshelf unread.
I have read a couple Trojan War retellings before and like many of my blogger friends, I have a special place in my heart for The Song of Achilles with it's beautiful prose and even more beautiful love story. But this retelling gave me something that TSoA didn't have, something which I looked for in The Silence of the Girls but missed slightly, but finally found it here - and that is defiance. The author has decided to bring the stories of women whose lives have been affected by the war to light and that she does in truly defiant glory. This is not a chronological story and the sheer number of POVs would probably have ruined any other book, but the author masterfully crafts her words so that we never feel overwhelmed. Yes, there are so many women who affected and were affected by the war - Trojan, Greek, goddesses from Olympus and nymphs from the sea - to weave together a narrative that does justice to them all is ambitious and I'm glad the author succeeds so well at it. The prose is not necessarily beautiful, I think it tended to be more blunt but I felt it perfectly encapsulated the feelings of most of these women - they had lost too much and had no time for niceties.
And I absolutely loved getting to know these women. The story starts with Calliope who is kind of like the narrator of this book, questioning why a women who lives through the horrors of war is any less heroic than any man who fought in it. Aren't they the ones who suffer the most, even after the war has taken the lives of the men. We meet the Trojan women awaiting their fates - Hecabe, the queen of Priam who still conducts herself like her former self, never losing her fire or her sharp tongue; Polyxena, her daughter who is calm and composed and brave until the end; Andromache, Hector's wife who is soft spoken even in her grief and devastation; and Cassandra, another daughter of Hecabe, whose prophecies fall on silent ears but her grief at knowing everything and being completely helpless tugged at my heartstrings. What actually surprised me was that we don't get to see Helen much, despite the war being for her, but I guess it was an interesting choice by the author, because ultimately the other women lost so much more.
I think I actually didn't know the origins for why the war had to come to pass, so I was fascinated by the POVs of Gaia and Themis and Eris and the three goddesses with their golden apple. There was also the utter tragedy of Laodamia who is shattered by her husband's death and Oenone who is steadfast in her convictions even when faced with immense betrayal. These were two women I had never ever heard of before, so it was good to know their tales as well. We even got to read Clytemnestra's POV which I really liked because I never knew how she felt about her daughter's sacrifice and what she did after the war.
But the strongest presence I felt had to be Penelope. The author tells her story through letters written to Odysseus and I think the audiobook was particularly good at depicting her rising anger and frustration at her husband who was taking his own sweet time returning to his homeland. While we do get to know his exploits through the ten years after the end of the war, I think it was Penelope who had my heart for holding on and waiting for her husband - whether it was due to love or frustration or devotion or just duty - she was strong for herself and her son when she was inundated with suitors, and I kept wishing that she gets everything she wants.
In the end, this was a surprisingly excellent read and I think the author did a great job as the narrator of the audiobook, using all her broadcasting experience to bring the varied emotions of her characters to life. If you are looking for a Trojan war retelling which is not about the war but the women who are usually forgotten in the epic narratives of battles, writing that is blunt and unapologetic but also full of deep empathy for it's characters, and a style of storytelling that is unique and fascinating and behaves as if timeline constraints do not exist, then this is the perfect book for you.