Ithaca – Claire North

Huge thanks to the lovely Nazia at Orbit for feeding my mythology obsession with the outstanding Ithaca by Claire North. I loved this one, and if you’re into retellings and mythology-inspired stories, you should check this one out too! As always, all opinions are my own.

RELEASE DATE: 08/09/2022

STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶

SUMMARY: Seventeen years ago, king Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them have returned, and the women have been left behind to run the kingdom.

Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. Whilst he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that husband is dead, and suitors are starting to knock at her door…

But no one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne – not yet. Between Penelope’s many suitors, a cold war of dubious alliances and hidden knives reigns, as everyone waits for the balance of power to tip one way or another. If Penelope chooses one from amongst them, it will plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning and her spy network of maids can she maintain the delicate balance of power needed for the kingdom to survive.

On Ithaca, everyone watches everyone else, and there is no corner of the palace where intrigue does not reign… (from Orbit)

OPINIONS: I have historically not always gotten along with Claire North’s writing. But as I’ve been adoring the mythological retellings trend and always thought Penelope deserved better than the few lines dedicated to her in The Odyssey, I decided to give Ithaca a shot anyway. And oh, am I glad that I did! This feels very different to Claire North’s previous books in terms of writing style, much more fluid and character-driven, concerned with telling a compelling story. Where I think I disconnected with her work before due to its bleak outlook and matter-of-fact tone, this worked much better for me, probably because it emulated a style closer to books like Ariadne or The Women of Troy. 

But this isn’t the story of how Penelope weaves her shroud. This is the story of how she governs in Odysseus absence, and I’m here for it. I loved Ithaca – I tend to like politics in my fiction anyway, and when its women taking over traditionally male roles in stories usually told from their perspective, even more so. One of the things I always forget is how in mythology, as in history, royals are related to each other. So, Penelope doesn’t act in isolation upon the conclusion of the Trojan war. The book also heavily features Elektra – which I found interesting, especially as Jennifer Saint’s Elektra came out only a few months ago. I love how this genre is in constant conversation with each other, how there is almost a shared universe of stories being created, a modern corpus of stories in which authors craft versions of mythology, just as oral storytellers would have thousands of years ago. 

So, Ithaca is another win for the mythology brigade. Strong characters, a solid story crafted fresh – this isn’t one that’s been done a million times, but one that takes a period that isn’t discussed often, especially in regard to Ithaca, and imagines a possible narrative for it. This is one that will work both for existing fans of Claire North and those drawn in by the blurb – it has a different feel to her previous work, and I believe this will gain her a wider readership. I highly recommend you check out Ithaca! Add it to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).

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