About a year ago I fell into a bit of a Greek Mythology hole, and I seemed to have bought a lot of books around the women of the Illiad. One of these books was For the Most Beautiful, on one of those “if you liked X, try Y” lists. I bought it (alongside Circe and other books) and then promptly forgot about it for almost a year. Now, in the Backlog Busting exercise, I have finally gotten around to reading it! I’d give it a solid 3.5, but I think I’d have loved it when I was knee deep in my mythology phase.
Title: For the Most Beautiful
Author: Emily Hauser
This book is about Princess Briseis, taken from her sacked city near Troy at the start of the battle and Achilles prize, and about daughter of the High Priest, Krisayis (who is also the lover of one of the Prince’s of Troy, and companion to Princess Cassandra, she who is cursed to be not believed). It starts before Paris goes to Greece and returns with Helen, and then into the battle. It isn’t really clear how much time passes, but based on events you know it’s the duration of the war. Briseis is angry at being given to Achilles, but comes to terms with it and even ends up confident in her place in Achilles camp – she’s quite clever at manipulating Agamemnon when she has to go to his camp in place of Krisayis. Krisayis is just hella angry at just about everyone and everything when she arrives at the camp (rightly so) and she stays angry.
The chapters are short, and switch between Briseis and Krisayis point of view, with one chapter each. There are also POV chapters for the Gods as well, as they hash out this entertainment from up on Olympus. I quite like those chapters – where Hermes is winding everyone up, Hera and Athena are ganging up on behalf of the Greeks, Zeus is pretty much an all round idiot etc. They’re entertaining little interludes, which ramp up the whole “The Fall of Troy is a game to the Gods” vibe.
What I liked most about this book is the alternative to the events of the Iliad which can be traced back to the start, but you only fully realise at the end (it’s not a spoiler, everyone knows what happens to Troy. That still happens). I liked that it’s a world of slave girls, not of the heroic men fighting, even if they do feature. And the gods are amusing.
However, the issue is that I have read many retellings of the Achilles/Patroclus/Briseis part of the Iliad, and I couldn’t help comparing. I think this is a good retelling, but I would be more inclined to direct people to The Silence of the Girls, or (if they’re looking for the more YA vibe) the Song of Achilles. It was good, but not overtly memorable, like the other two I just mentioned. Plus, this Briseis annoyed me for most of the book – I could see where she was coming from, but she was really annoying about it – Krisayis at least was doing something.
As I said at the beginning, solid 3.5 stars, but there were things I disliked, and I couldn’t help comparing to other books on the same subject, which is not helpful for anyone!