For The Most Beautiful
The only prize I ever won in school was for speaking Greek verse. We, half a dozen state school girls from Hertfordshire, took on the might of the top (male) public schools and won. It was girl power at its finest. So armed with that victory and the subsequent O-level, here is my review of this lovely book by proper classicist Emily Hauser, a retelling of the Trojan Wars where the women also come out on top.
The story of the Trojan Wars, which were sparked by Paris's abduction of the beautiful Greek queen Helen and the besieging army her husband Menelaus raised to bring her home, has been retold many times since it was first set down by Homer in The Iliad.
To be honest I've never understood why the Trojans didn't just give Helen back. She always seemed to me a selfish, tiresome minx who was quite content to see an entire city destroyed in a ten-year war just so she could be with the man she loved.
Hauser's retelling focusses on other two women from the original story: Krisayis the daughter of the High Priest of Apulunas at Troy and the princess Briseis of a neighbouring city state who was carried off by the mighty god Achilles as his prize.
One of my bugbears in modern fiction is the heroine. Somehow writers, TV scriptwriters in particular, think it's acceptable to take a 21st century heroine, put her in period dress and have her rail feistily against the constraints of whichever society she finds herself in. It is a disservice both to the heroine and the reader.
Emily Hauser does not do this. Her heroines are, to my mind, the entirely real products of the society in which they lived, but they lose nothing in their courage and determination to alter events.
Though both are taken into slavery during the war, the two women react quite differently to their captivity. Krisayis is resourceful, brave and strong. She risks her life to send information back to Troy. Briseis, however, has witnessed the deaths of her husband and three brothers at the hand of Achilles and is broken by grief. It is a mark of Hauser's skill that she makes the reader believe that Briseis could fall for Achilles after that, but she does. Unwittingly, Briseis betrays Achilles causing his death and making herself vulnerable to new horrors.
Hauser conjures up a vibrant world and if, in places, she is a little enthusiastic with the adjectives, it's perhaps because she has so much to convey to help us really see it. I love the way she has made Krisayis and Briseis modern and relevant while keeping them anchored in their time and I can't wait for the next book.