‘Daughters of Sparta’ by Claire Heywood

Thanks to Hodder and Stoughton and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been hearing a bit of buzz about this on the old social media circuit so I allowed myself a break from researching my dissertation to read it.

The book’s ‘Daughters of Sparta’ are sisters Klytemnestra and Helen who need no introduction if you’re a massive Classics nerd like me. We get each of their points of view throughout the story from early childhood through to Agamemnon’s return from The Trojan War. I’m not really going to mark spoilers here because these stories are literally thousands of years old.

The good:

The writing flows well and the book is easy and engaging to read. I think younger readers would find it accessible and engaging to read.

The author clearly knows their stuff and I liked how there were little nuggets of historical knowledge peppered throughout the story e.g. the representation of The Trojans and the setting of Mycenea.

The whole section that dealt with the death of Iphigenia was really affecting. Reader, I cried. Maybe it’s because I’ve just had a baby and my hormones are crazy but it was heartbreaking.

Agamemnon was portrayed true to character in the sense that he was a massive chode.

The not so good:

I had some issues with the characterisation of Helen and Klytemnestra. Helen in particular was a bit of drip. It’s always going to be difficult to portray someone who has pretty much always been portrayed as an idea rather than a person but she was just SO passive, the impact of which was her character being constantly absolved of any of her actions just by her sheer lack of agency and personality. Bad stuff happens to her and she just…goes with the flow. It would have been nice for her to leave with Paris just because she bloody wanted to. I didn’t feel any passion or drive from her, she upturned her whole life, abandoning her husband and child, because she was a bit lonely and scared of having another baby. I think her character would have engaged me more if she had been more selfish and headstrong, it just all felt so safe.

Klytemnestra was stronger but again, where was the fire? This is a woman who fantasized about killing her husband for over a decade but again just dithers back and fore and lets stuff happen to her.

Kassandra’s characterisation was also very wishy washy. Where’s the crazed prophetess I know and love? Not here sadly. She appears briefly to provide a chum for Helen before shuffling off the mortal coil. Kassandra is such an iconic character but is reduced to almost nothing here.

I also found the pacing didn’t quite work. The first 50% revolves around husbands and babies and then the rest of the story feels shoehorned into the second half. The deaths of key characters like Hektor and Paris felt rushed and anticlimactic, particularly in the case of Hektor. Again, this is one of the key moments in western literature but it happens with a whimper rather than a bang.

In a world of Homeric retellings by Colm Toibin, Pat Barker, Natalie Haynes, Simon Armitage and Margaret Atwood I think authors need to do something different but I didn’t feel like it went anywhere new enough to elevate it to where I hoped it would go.

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