I really enjoyed For the Most Beautiful, Hauser’s debut novel, which told the tale of the siege of Troy from the perspective of two women caught up in the battle – an unusual and likely unique perspective from which to share that well-known story – and I was absolutely delighted when I was sent a copy of Hauser’s follow up, For the Winner, to review.
Some three thousand years ago, in a time before history, the warriors of Greece journeyed to the ends of the earth in the greatest expedition the world had ever seen.
One woman fought alongside them.
Abandoned at birth on the slopes of Mount Pelion, Atalanta is determined to prove her worth to the father who cast her aside. Having taught herself to hunt and fight, and disguised as a man, she wins a place on the greatest voyage of that heroic age: with Jason and his band of Argonauts in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.
And it is here, in the company of men who will go down in history as heroes, that Atalanta must battle against the odds – and the will of the gods – to take control of her destiny and change her life forever.
With her unrivalled knowledge and captivating storytelling, Emily Hauser brings alive an ancient world where the gods can transform a mortal’s life on a whim, where warriors carve out names that will echo down the ages… and where one woman fights to determine her own fate.
As with her previous novel, Hauser presents the reader with a tale from Greek mythology, but told from the perspective of a female character. In this case, we have Atalanta, abandoned on a mountain at her father’s command during a winter storm, but rescued and taken in by a peasant family. Growing up, she learns to wield a bow and a sword, and, upon discovering the truth about her heritage, seeks out the father who abandoned her, determined to prove her worth.
I absolutely loved Atalanta. She is smart and capable, and if ever there was ever a feminist in ancient Greece, it is surely her. I loved her determination to prove herself, her pride and unwillingness to concede defeat, even when faced with daunting odds. I also loved her desire to go on an adventure, and to be comparable to the heroes of the time – her attitude spoke to the part of me that always wanted adventures as a child.
Also present in For the Winner are the meddling Gods and Goddesses of the time, most notably Hera who loves to involve herself in human affairs. I loved the portrayal of these beings as proud, manipulative and self-obsessed, yet ultimately fallible and capable of being outwitted, often by each other, and I think that the inclusion of these beings in the tale adds a little something extra to the story.
If I enjoyed For the Most Beautiful, I absolutely loved For the Winner. I think that part of this was because I’m less familiar with the story of Jason and the Argonauts than I am with the siege of Troy, although I remember watching a film of Jason and the Argonauts with my dad while growing up (although it bore little resemblance to this novel). If you’re interested in mythology, this is definitely a novel worth reading, but even if that element doesn’t appeal, I think that fans of historical fiction and / or fantasy adventures would find much to enjoy in Hauser’s novels, which can be read as standalone tales, despite being loosely linked.
For the Winner was published on 15 June by Doubleday – many thanks to Hannah Bright for providing a copy for review.