Review of 'The Women Of Troy' - Pat Barker
Updated: Aug 24
Troy has fallen. The Greeks have won their bitter war. They can return home as victors, loaded with their spoils: their stolen gold, stolen weapons, stolen women. All they need is a good wind to lift their sails.
But the wind does not come. The gods have been offended - the body of Trojan king Priam lies desecrated, unburied - and so the victors remain in limbo, camped in the shadow of the city they destroyed, pacing at the edge of an unobliging sea. And, in these empty, restless days, the hierarchies that held them together begin to fray, old feuds resurface and new suspicions fester.
Amidst her squabbling captors, Briseis -- now married to Alcimus, but carrying the child of the late Achilles -- must forge alliances where she can: with young, dangerously naïve Amina, with defiant, aged Hecuba, and with wild-eyed Cassandra, the unheeded seer. And so begins the path to a kind of revenge. Briseis has survived the Trojan War, but peacetime may turn out to be even more dangerous...
The first thing to say about this book is that I love the cover. I know the old adage says not to judge a book by it, but I am a total sucker for a pretty or interesting cover and with both this and The Silence Of The Girls I adore the fact that the covers are reminiscent of Ancient Greek art. My eldest has opted to do Classical Civilisation A-level and it's made me very reminiscent for my own GCSE and A-level Classics days. Consequently, I've read a fair few books set in the Classical world recently and The Silence of The Girls was one of the best. Consequently, when I spotted the sequel on Netgalley I was keen for the opportunity to review it and luckily I was sent an ARC.
The Silence of The Girls ends with the line 'Once not so long ago, I tried to walk out of Achilles' story - and failed. Now, my own story can begin.' In The Women Of Troy that is exactly what happens. Briseis begins her new life - very different in some ways to the previous book. However, events soon begin to occur that make her realise her new position is almost as precarious as her old one. Her marriage to Alcimus gives her a level of protection but she doesn't seem much happier than she was prior to it. Instead, she begins to forge her own connections, conscious even as she does so that her new status raises barriers between her and the other women. It is inevitable that these women will be separated when they leave the shores of Troy and their owners/husbands head back to their own kingdoms but they offer support to each other while they can. By modern standards these women are victims of war crimes and although it's hard not to judge the men by our standards, the women themselves are absolutely of their time and almost accept their lot - they control their own fates as much as they are able to within the confines of the time. However, whilst there is nothing about their actions or speech which jars and feels like a modern sensibility, it is fascinating to see how much they are able to rebel against their conquerors.
This is a very fresh take on an ancient story and it never feels dated, perhaps because, as a female, it is all too easy to be aware that sexual assault is still an issue in the modern world, particularly in war zones.
I read Barker's Regeneration Trilogy as a teenager and fell in love with her writing. Somewhere between then and now, her books got lost to me. Through The Silence Of The Girls and The Women of Troy it feels like I've reconnected with an old friend. The beauty of Barker's writing is that she doesn't skirt around anything - each atrocity is delivered in a blunt, straightforward manner that does nothing to shield the reader, but it never feels overdone. Nothing is gratuitous and every word is made to count for something. The other strength of her work is that even the 'villains' elicit a level of sympathy. By telling part of the story from Pyrrhus' perspective, Barker humanises him without excusing him and the reader sees the motivations for his behaviour and understands him a little more. It makes him a much more rounded character, which is a little disturbing for the reader but absolutely necessary for the book to work.
I'm very much hoping that there will be a third installment in this excellent series.
Thank you to Penguin and Netgalley for allowing me to read and review this book in advance of publication.