ITHACA by Claire North.
Orbit Books. h/b. £16.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
Odysseus has been gone from Ithaca for 18 years, not returned since he sailed to fight the Trojan wars. Now many suitors would take his place. Penelope treats them all with a fair and distant hand, showing favour to none and clinging to the idea that her husband is not dead and her son will one day grow to be the man he could be, though she knows he would choose to be a hero like his father and his father before him.
Penelope is the daughter of a naiad and a king who tried – and failed – to kill her. Others may call her cruel nicknames, even her own stepchildren, but she does not let that deter her from defending her people from would-be-invaders and quietly and successfully keeping Ithaca alive in its leader’s absence. A new suitor, an Egyptian, arrives on her shores and awaits an audience with Ithaca’s queen. How long she will keep him waiting is up to Penelope.
Ithaca is the first book in North’s The Songs of Penelope and predominantly follows the narrative thread of Penelope standing stead in Odysseus’ absence, running the kingdom without being seen to run the kingdom, and watching her son’s often fruitless attempts to grow to manhood under his father’s living legacy.
Hera’s narrative voice is exceptional, enthused with all the power of the omniscient view. She brings wit and dry, scathing sarcasm, and lays out all of the faults of men and gods for all to witness. She does not hesitate to criticise her peers, her children, and even Zeus himself. She paints fantastically flawed and believable depictions of a host of characters of Greek myth and brings them to life with all their beauty and gore. She machinates but is not alone in doing so as she tries to steer the fates of those in Ithaca.
Ithaca introduces the many, many characters beautifully and really lays the groundwork for an enjoyable and poignant series. Those who know Penelope’s story will enjoy this feminine re-telling which unveils the flaws of the ancient Greek patriarchal society. Those who are less familiar will no doubt enjoy this refreshing view of Greece’s queens and goddesses.