Since The Song of Achilles and Circe are two very popular books at the moment, especially The Song of Achilles. I thought I would make a recommendation post about books centered around Greek myth retellings. There are many excellent books, and I hope the ones I recommend are enjoyable reads!
If You Liked The Song of Achilles, Then Read:
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, which continues to wage bloody war over a stolen woman—Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman—Briseis—watches and waits for the war’s outcome. She was queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms, until Achilles, Greece’s greatest warrior, sacked her city and murdered her husband and brothers. Briseis becomes Achilles’s concubine, a prize of battle, and must adjust quickly in order to survive a radically different life, as one of the many conquered women who serve the Greek army.
When Agamemnon, the brutal political leader of the Greek forces, demands Briseis for himself, she finds herself caught between the two most powerful of the Greeks. Achilles refuses to fight in protest, and the Greeks begin to lose ground to their Trojan opponents. Keenly observant and coolly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position, able to observe the two men driving the Greek army in what will become their final confrontation, deciding the fate not only of Briseis’s people but also of the ancient world at large.
Briseis is just one among thousands of women living behind the scenes in this war—the slaves and prostitutes, the nurses, the women who lay out the dead—all of them erased by history. With breathtaking historical detail and luminous prose, Pat Barker brings the teeming world of the Greek camp to vivid life. She offers nuanced, complex portraits of characters and stories familiar from mythology, which, seen from Briseis’s perspective, are rife with newfound revelations. Barker’s latest builds on her decades-long study of war and its impact on individual lives—and it is nothing short of magnificent.
This book, like The Song of Achilles, takes place during the Trojan War, but it shows a different perspective. It tells the story mainly from the point of view of Briseis, as well as Achilles during certain parts. I would recommend this if you think that Achilles is an interesting character, and if you want a different perspective on his character. You can read my full review of it here!
A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them…
In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash…
The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all…
Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.
This book is more associated with Circe because it is also a feminist retelling. However, I put it under The Song of Achilles because it takes place during the Trojan War. This shows the Trojan side of the events of The Iliad, and it develops many complex and interesting female characters whose lives have been uprooted and destroyed by the Trojan War. I would recommend this if you are interested in a book with an entirely female perspective. This is my full review!
If You Liked Circe, Then Read:
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.
In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.
In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the story-telling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality—and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.
This is a shorter book, but it’s very interesting and well-written. It gives another side to the story of Penelope, and it gives her character depth and her own motivations. The book shows Penelope’s struggles throughout the years that Odysseus is away from Ithaca. Like Circe, she’s a strong and independent character of her own. If you’re interested in knowing what occurred during those twenty years, then I would definitely recommend this book!
The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes
My siblings and I have grown up in a cursed house, children of cursed parents…
Jocasta is just fifteen when she is told that she must marry the King of Thebes, an old man she has never met. Her life has never been her own, and nor will it be, unless she outlives her strange, absent husband.
Ismene is the same age when she is attacked in the palace she calls home. Since the day of her parents’ tragic deaths a decade earlier, she has always longed to feel safe with the family she still has. But with a single act of violence, all that is about to change.
With the turn of these two events, a tragedy is set in motion. But not as you know it.
In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes takes a fresh perspective on an ancient story, reimagining in gripping prose how the Oedipus and Antigone stories would look if the oft-overlooked female characters took centre stage. Retelling the myth to reveal a new side of an ancient story.
This book retells the myth of Oedipus, and it shows it from the point of view of two characters who are less focused on, Jocasta and Ismene. Their stories are told in two intertwining storylines, and both of the characters go through a great deal of development. The only thing I would note about this book is that it does take some liberties with the myth of Oedipus, so if you are basing your knowledge of it on Sophocles’ plays, then it will not be exactly the same, but it is still an excellent book. You can read my full review here!
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?
Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
This book tells the story of Ariadne and Phaedra from two point of views, the two sisters. Their stories are intertwining and the book tells their complex stories throughout the years. The book highlights how women often pay the price for men in Greek myths, and the book directly shows the effects of it. If you liked Circe, then this will probably be an interesting and enjoyable read!
Are any of these books on your TBR? Do any of them interest you? Let me know in the comments!