The Women of Troy
- Author: Pat Barker
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Publication Date: August 24, 2021
- Publisher: Doubleday
- Series: Women of Troy #2
CONTENT WARNING: slavery, death, blood, rape, murder, murder of children, gore, suicide
Troy has fallen, and the victorious Greeks are eager to return home with the spoils of an endless war—including the women of Troy themselves. They await a fair wind for the Aegean.
It does not come, because the gods are offended. The body of King Priam lies unburied and desecrated, and so the victors remain in suspension, camped in the shadows of the city they destroyed as the coalition that held them together begins to unravel. Old feuds resurface, and new suspicions and rivalries begin to fester.
Largely unnoticed by her captors, the onetime Trojan queen Briseis, who was formerly Achilles’s slave but now belongs to his companion Alcimus, quietly takes in these developments. She forges alliances where she can—with Priam’s aged wife, the defiant Hecuba, and with the disgraced soothsayer Calchas—all the while shrewdly seeking her path to revenge.
I remember reading The Silence of the Girls a while back, and not realizing that it was going to have a sequel. Since it was a while ago, I listened to the audiobook before starting this one, and I’m glad that I did, because I forgot a lot of the story.
It picks up right where the story left off, with Briseis adjusting to her new status as a wife, rather than a slave. It puts an unexpected rift in her relationship with the other women in the camp, and affords her certain freedoms that she didn’t have before: she isn’t expected to do the same work that she always had to do, and she’s got more freedom to move around. But in some ways, she’s still just as constricted as she always was, and she never forgets that she’s trapped among the men who sacked her city and killed her family. Effectively a prisoner. The only thing that afforded her this privilege was the fact that she is carrying Achilles’s child, one that she has mixed feelings about:
“I hadn’t chosen this pregnancy; I didn’t want it. And yet I knew it was my salvation. Without it, I’d have been given away—offered as a first prize in Achilles’s funeral games. Instead, I had marriage, security, even a certain deference.”
Even as the wife of Alcimus, she still isn’t fully secure. She’s somewhat separated from the other women, and she is caught in limbo. She isn’t quite a slave, but she isn’t exactly NOT a slave. It’s something that she struggles with, and unlike one of the women from the previous book, she hasn’t grown to love the man she lives with now. And she is forced to deal with the consequences of her actions when she tries to remain loyal to her values and beliefs, as well as the women she still identifies with:
“I think, at that moment, I understood how fragile my position really was. As Alcimus’s wife, I’d started to feel in my new status, but standing there in a storage hut with a locked door behind me, I knew I’d never been more than an inch away from slavery.”
While this book is harsh and unflinching in its look at the plight of the women, what I liked is that it gives the women of Troy a voice. It’s something that hasn’t been done in all the stories that glorify the story of the Trojan War — instead of focusing on the battle, or the strategy, or the mythology, it centers solely on the struggle of the women in the camp. The women who are forced to mourn their loved ones silently as they come to terms with the fact that they are now property of the men who are responsible for those deaths. The fact that they no longer have any semblance of control over their lives. They have no warmth or hope in their lives. So they seek it out from the women around them, for the most part.
The writing is absolutely beautiful, bringing these characters, their motivations, and their relationships with each other to life. The characters are complex and well-created, allowing us into some of their heads and understand what they are thinking and experiencing. While most of the story is told from the POV of Briseis, we also get a few chapters from the POV of Pyrrhus and Calchas, giving some much-needed perspective and letting us see that there is more to the story.
Although there isn’t a lot in the way of a fast-moving plot, the story was still a fast read and kept my attention for the entire day. I was completely absorbed and while the story left me with a satisfying ending, I’m hoping that there is another book in the works. I can’t help but be curious to find out what happens down the road for Briseis and the other women of Troy.
Categories: Book Review