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Friday, September 9, 2022

Book review: Ithaca by Claire North

 


Book links: Amazon, Goodreads

AUTHOR INFO: Claire North is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Medal-nominated author whose first book was written when she was just fourteen years old. She went on to write several other novels in various genres, before publishing her first major work as Claire North, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, in 2014. It was a critically acclaimed success, receiving rave reviews and an Audie nomination, and was included in the Washington Post's Best Books of the Year list. Her most recent novel, Touch, was also in the Washington Post's Best Books of the Year, in 2015.

Publisher: Orbit (September 06, 2022) Page count: 464 Cover design: Lisa Marie Pompilio


Wow. Just wow. As a huge fan of Claire North's writing, I had no doubt that I would enjoy Ithaca. But the sheer brilliance of this retelling exceeded my wildest dreams. The story is intimate, emotional, and full of drama.

Fans of fast-paced, action-packed stories won't like it, though, so keep that in mind.

Ithaca is the first book in a trilogy telling the story of Penelope of Ithaca. When Odysseus went to war, he left Penelope to rule the western isles. He was supposed to return after Troy's fall, but he didn't. This left Penelope with a big problem. How could she protect her island and her people when not only did she have no army, but the idea of women being in charge was seen as ridiculous?

Additionally, Ithaca was valuable enough to be worth conquering. Powerful suitors wanted to marry Penelope, and she couldn't say yes or no to any of them. Personal preferences aside, there was politics involved. If she married one of the suitors, she risked the others becoming enraged and attacking her isles. And with no men of fighting age to defend it, Ithaca would be doomed. Unfortunately, some of the suitors were tired of waiting and decided to break all the rules to get what they wanted before someone else does.

The story is narrated by Hera, queen of the gods. She has a biting tongue but she's a gifted storyteller. Her narration resembles omniscient narration but at times she starts to rage about her position among gods, her conflict with Athena, or pathetic men. Because she's a goddess, she's able to comment on Penelope's thoughts and actions, as well as those around her. She even mentions what is going on with Odysseus and some of the other famous faces of Troy. It's all fun and full of ATTITUDE. And delightfully feminist.

Ithaca is a fantastic opening to the series. Ancient geopolitics, espionage, treachery, and games of power make it thrilling, and deeply personal stakes make it intimate and focused. I loved it.

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