For the Most Beautiful is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad and the siege of Troy, told from the perspective of two women who are all but disregarded in Homer’s epic poem:
- Briseis is taken captive by the Greeks after watching her husband’s murder, and becomes a slave to Achilles
- Krisayis is the daughter of the high priest of Apulunas (the Trojan’s name for Apollo) and it’s expected that she will become a priestess once she comes of age, although she has other ideas
Told through the eyes of these two women, the reader is presented with a very different view of the Trojan war – not just the heroes and gods whose names are still widely known today, but the women, and how they used what little influence was available to them.
The stand out character for me was Krisayis, or Chryseis as she is in The Iliad (Hauser changed her name slightly to avoid confusion). When captured by the Greeks, she becomes a bed slave to Agamemnon. But she still tries to help the Trojans by learning what she can about the Greeks’ plans, and passing this information back to the Trojans. She is brave and feisty and tries to do what is best for Troy, despite the fact that they don’t seem to care about her all that much.
I think that most people know how the siege of Troy ends – indeed, we use the term Trojan Horse to describe sneaky malware today. Given this, I was a little surprised that this part of the story wasn’t overtly covered in the novel. It is mentioned in passing – we see Odysseus come up with the plan, and the end result, but it is not covered in any real detail – the making of a horse, why the Trojans take it into their city. I would have liked Hauser’s take on this, given that this is key to fall of Troy.
I’ve not studied The Iliad in any great detail, but I know the vague outline of the story. As far as I can tell, For the Most Beautiful remains relatively true to Homer’s narrative, although Hauser does admit to taking some artistic license – particularly in assigning feelings / motivations to the characters. I’m happy with this – it is a retelling, after all, inspired by, but not a direct carbon copy of, the original. I think that there will always be some purists who dislike these twists and adaptations, and if so, my advice is simple – don’t read it. If, however, you are someone who enjoys a new spin on an old idea, I can’t recommend this enough. I think that fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad (which was itself part of the inspiration behind the work) and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, both of which touch on a similar theme, would really enjoy this new take on an old tale.
And don’t worry if you’re not totally familiar with the tale and the “who’s who” – there is a handy glossary available, complete with a guide to pronunciation.
For the Most Beautiful is the first of three stand-alone novels that will comprise the Golden Apple trilogy, and I’m really looking forward to the next one already! Hauser’s writing style is exquisite – this is an extremely accomplished début, and I can’t wait to see where the follow up takes us.
Emily Hauser’s For the Most Beautiful will be published in the UK on 28 January 2016. Many thanks to Patsy Irwin for providing a copy for review.