Electra is eagerly looking forward to her father Agamemnon’s triumphant return to Mycenae after the long war in Troy. But his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have other plans – Clytemnestra cannot forgive her husband for the sacrifice of her eldest daughter Iphigenia at the start of the war, and Aegisthus covets the kingship. Instead of celebrating his return, they murder him horribly; and suddenly Mycenae isn’t a safe place for Electra or her brother Orestes. Orestes goes into exile, and Electra has to submit to a humiliating fate. When Orestes eventually returns, there is only one word on his mind – revenge!
What part will Electra play in this?
I have a great passion for ancient history and, as a result, I read a lot of fiction based in classical antiquity. Sadly far too many of these books seem only to dwell on the masculine sword-and-sandals stories and females are allocated the usual position of wife or servant. Recently there have been two noticeable novels that put girls right at the heart of the story.
Frances Thomas’ new book, The Silver Handled Knife, is the third in her series The Girls of Troy. In this volume we share the extraordinary story of Electra, daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon as she makes her way to adulthood and independence by way of war, sacrifice and clever wrangling. She is an instantly likeable character and the Classical period is vividly brought to life. Her hardships and suffering are part of the tapestry of her life and, even though it all feels extraordinary to us, Electra regards most of the things that happen to her as an inevitable part of her life. Her struggles become ours and we bear her burdens with her and try to imagine walking in her footsteps. Thomas’ style is to absorb us in the period and yet Electra still feels like someone we know and understand today.
The other book that I have recently enjoyed that is centered on classical history is Lucy Coat’s remarkable book, Cleo. Her description of the life of young Cleopatra is a unique and colourful look into the turbulent path that she lead to achieve her place in history. It is hard writing about a person that everyone thinks they know, but Lucy Coats effortlessly introduces us to a young woman about whom I clearly knew very little. Coat’s style is to bring this to life in a modernistic fashion, but somehow this still works and allows us to see the modern parallels that Cleo shares with teens today.
I have read hundreds of books that base their plot in antiquity, but few writers manage to bring something fresh and new to the tale. I’m very glad to say that these two books are bright and exciting and would make a great addition to any bookshelf.
Cleo by Lucy Coats is published by Orchard Books – May 2015
The Silver Handled Knife by Frances Thomas is published by Silverwood Books – 1 Sept 2015
Review by Dawn Finch
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