Tag Archives: Emily Hauser

For the Winner by Emily Hauser

for the winner

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.

Rating: ★★★★★

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For the Most Beautiful by Emily Hauser

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.