PUB. DATE: September 11th
Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.5 STARS)
Genres: Historical Fiction, Retellings, Mythology
Summary: The ancient city of Troy has withstood a decade under siege of the powerful Greek army, who continue to wage bloody war over a stolen woman–Helen. In the Greek camp, another woman watches and waits for the war’s outcome: Briseis. 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 cooly unflinching about the daily horrors of war, Briseis finds herself in an unprecedented position to observe the two men driving the Greek forces 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.
My thoughts: I am utterly breathless. This novel was so much more than I imagined it would be. Following the point of view of Briseis, this story tells the tale of the Trojan War from the eyes of a girl who is taken from her city and is claimed as Achilles’ prize for conquering her homeland. This is what sets up the gruesome and raw tale of this explosive war that so many have read about but has never been shown through the eyes of a woman who becomes a slave and an object that is fought over by these warriors.
What really makes this story incredible is the unfiltered thoughts of Briseis who casts Achilles in a villainous light, which I adored. While I enjoy the entire Achilles + Patroclus story that everyone tells (and is included in this retelling, as well), it was so refreshing to read about Achilles as the man he truly was, an arrogant, self-centered, spiteful killer who had no mercy for others. The way his story wraps around Briseis and takes center stage truly showcases how he conquered everyone around him until he was in the spotlight. I loved how much I loathed him, in this retelling, and I believe this is my favorite portrayal of Achilles because he shows how indifferent he is to the shockwaves of his actions.
Both Achilles’ brutality was shown, as well as the horrors of the Trojan War. Because we see most of the story told from Briseis’ perspective, we are able to witness the mistreatment of the other women in the camp, the barbaric acts of the Greek warriors, and the shock waves of the war and how it changes each person fighting on both sides. This is definitely a darker retelling that isn’t for everyone, but it is eye-opening to see the blatant mistreatment and objectification of women in a war-like-setting which made me feel for these characters forced to be in the middle of this dark time in history.
If you’re a fan of The Song of Achilles or The Iliad, you’d most definitely fall in love with this haunting tale that I still think about, weeks after finishing the novel. It mixes the horrors of war, the mistreatment of women, and the strength of Briseis which was awe-inspiring. The Silene of the Girls shows the darker side of Greek mythology and doesn’t hold back, and it left me with a racing heart.
** I received a free physical ARC of this novel from Double Day Books in exchange for an honest review. **