Ithaca by Claire North
Publication Date: September 6th, 2022
Hardcover. 400 pages.
Publication Date: September 6th, 2022
Hardcover. 400 pages.
"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 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' empty throne—not yet. But everyone waits for the balance of power to tip, and Penelope knows that any choice she makes could plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning, wit, and her trusted circle of maids, can she maintain the tenuous peace needed for the kingdom to survive.
This is the story of Penelope of Ithaca, famed wife of Odysseus, as it has never been told before. Beyond Ithaca’s shores, the whims of gods dictate the wars of men. But on the isle, it is the choices of the abandoned women—and their goddesses— that will change the course of the world."
I read one page of A Strange and Stubborn Endurance and
Ithaca is a beautifully written story of what happened on Ithaca while Odysseus was missing in the years after the Trojan War. I did not end up connecting with this story as much as I'd hoped to, but I still found myself enraptured by Claire North's prose.
I was particularly curious about this retelling because, to my knowledge, North hasn’t written anything quite in this historical fiction/myth retelling vein. Her prose is always very unique to me and stands out in her SFF work, so I was excited to dive in and see what her take on this story would be. I’ve loved some of her previous books and I’ve also not loved some of her previous work, so I was eager to check it out.
Ithaca is told from the goddess Hera’s perspective, which I found to be a particularly unique idea that I was totally on board for. This perspective allowed the narrative to have a more omniscient point of view and to easily move around to difference characters and places. As you may or may not know, the Greek gods are known to sort of be the big players in charge and view all the humans on earth sort of as their little playthings and pawns on their own chessboards against one another, so I loved this aspect because it really seemed to bring that out to me. If you’ve read the Iliad, you’ll see scenes between the gods where they talk about their plans and how they plan to watch their little humans play out their plans, so this felt like a good offshoot from that and I think fit the overall story really well. Unfortunately, as neat as this narrative idea was, I ended up having some mixed feelings about its execution.
I really appreciated how much detail North went into in this book and how well she was able to tap into this era of ancient Greece and it’s culture, but at the same time it made it apparent that there was actually far too much detail that bogged down everything else. There were so many different names and characters mentioned that were somewhat irrelevant to the story and maybe had one line or a cameo of sorts and then vanished again. This made it hard to keep track of who was who and who would be important to remember and who I could move on from. It just didn’t really work that well for me. And in addition to all of these characters, I felt as though the story really jumped around a lot between characters since it was more of an omniscient narrator, and this left me with a little bit of whiplash in trying to grab onto anything stable.
My biggest problem was probably simply the fact that this didn’t feel as though it really centered on Penelope. She was the overarching device that pulled everything together and surrounded her, but there was so much focus on other random people and things that it didn’t feel as much of a story focused solely on Penelope as I might have expected. For instance, I didn’t really mind the focus on Clytemnestra and Helen necessarily, but it felt like filler and I didn’t really feel like it was necessarily to read their whole story over again just because Hera wanted to share it.
I also found some of North’s dialogue and word choices a little anachronistic at times in ways that pulled me out of the story. It’s not that the Greeks didn’t speak in similar ways to us, but rather the ways in which she incorporated some language that didn’t work as much as I’d have hoped it would.
For the positive part, I’ll say that North’s prose was absolutely lovely and I found myself losing myself and basking in her writing, but the content of that writing was not always my favorite. Ithaca is one of those books that was just so beautiful to read and I wanted to keep reading because of the beautiful prose and because I kept hoping something would finally grab me and pull me into the story more. Unfortunately, I didn’t find myself overly enjoying the content consistently or even really connecting with the story, which is a bummer considering how much I desperately wanted this to be a new favorite.
I appreciate what North was trying to do with an exploration of kind of gender and how women had or did not have power, but other aspects I struggled more with. I thought the way she described and featured men was a little frustrating because I don’t think men have to be so overtly stupid and useless in order to make a point about women’s abilities. I understand this was Hera’s POV and I would possibly expect this attitude from her, but I just found it a bit frustrating at times.
Overall, I've given Ithaca three stars. This book is written with care and dedication and is definitely a great exploration of the ancient Greek world, though it unfortunately didn't end up coming together quite as well as I'd hoped it would for me.