I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, Orbit Books, in exchange for an honest review.
Ithaca was one of my favorite books of 2022. However, I was thrown at the end of the book when I discovered that, unlike most Greek myth retellings, it was not a standalone novel but the first of a trilogy. I have been eagerly awaiting House of Odysseus since finishing those final pages of Ithaca, and am thrilled to announce that it lived up to its predecessor in every single way. This series follows the story of Penelope during the 20 year absence of her husband, King Odysseus of Ithaca. Ithaca presents this story from the perspective of Hera, Queen of Queens, as she observes what’s going on in Penelope’s life and how those happens overlap with the last days of Clytemnestra, Hera’s darling. House of Odysseus picks up where Ithaca left off, but now from the perspective of Aphrodite as her favorite, Helen, weaves her way back into Penelope’s story.
Aphrodite is generally portrayed as conniving and cruel, wielding love as a weapon. In House of Odysseus, she knows that she is viewed as such, but within her mind we see that she does truly find something to love about everyone. It’s sweet and lovely and more than a little sad, as she holds so much love inside herself so as not to make others feel more uncomfortable around her than they are already. I’ve never been a fan of Aphrodite, but this book softened my heart toward her in exactly the same way Ithaca softened me toward Hera. North has a gift here, of bringing dimension and sympathy to classical characters.
She also has a fabulous voice to here writing, including a knack for finding a balance between a classical feel and a slightly irreverent tone. I love her writing in this series so much. It is deft and clever and, again, impeccably balanced. It harkens back to its source material while also feeling fresh and vibrant and original. There’s a lot of depth here, and some truly inspiring speeches. There is a very compelling mystery and some serious tension to the plot and pacing. But the story never feels heavy, even though it quite easily could. The characters are compelling and multifaceted, and North did a wonderful job of making me care about them.
This is also hands down one of the most feminist works I’ve ever read. I’ve loved the recent trend of taking such classic, masculine myths and examining the women of those tales, giving them voice and agency for the first time in millennia. Works like Circe and Stone Blind and Clytemnestra have done this beautifully, with power and poignancy. But the Songs of Penelope series has done this with a broader scope, showing the vitality of an entire island of women instead of a select handful or a single woman. I love that it has also included the major goddesses, Hera and Aphrodite, Athena and Artemis, giving more dimension to these deities, as well. And our titular queen, Penelope, is more than a match for her wily husband. Reading about her cleverness has been a joy.
I loved everything about House of Odysseus, and will be counting down the days until the final installment is released. The Last Song of Penelope promises to be an absolutely fantastic finale, if it lives up to its two predecessors. And if it does, this will become my favorite historical trilogy of all time, and quite likely my favorite Greek myth retelling. Which is really saying something, as that’s one of my favorite subgenres. North has done something really special with this series, and I can’t wait to see how the story ends.