Clytemnestra – Costanza Casati

Published By: Michael Joseph
Pages: 480
Released On: 02/03/2023

Mother. Monarch. Murderer. Magnificent.

You are born to a king, but marry a tyrant. You stand helplessly as he sacrifices your child to placate the gods. You watch him wage war on a foreign shore and comfort yourself with violent thoughts of your own.

You play the part, fooling enemies who deny you justice. Slowly, you plot.

You are Clytemnestra.

But when the husband who owns you returns in triumph, what then?

Acceptance or vengeance – infamy follows both. So you bide your time and wait, until you might force the gods’ hands and take revenge. Until you rise. For you understood something that the others don’t. If power isn’t given to you, you have to take it for yourself.

A blazing novel set in the world of Ancient Greece and told through the eyes of its greatest heroine, this is a thrilling tale of power and prophecies, of hatred, love, and of an unforgettable Queen who fiercely dealt out death to those who wronged her.

*****

Thanks to NetGalley and Michael Joseph for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I’ve tried to read a number of Greek myth inspired/adapted books recently and I never seem to be able to get through them. They all seem a bit too full on, like the authors wants to add every bit of historical accuracy as well as the fictional drama, but they never quite hit the mark with either. But this one was getting early praise right off the bat so I went in with an open mind (and a gin), and what an amazing book it was.

I was hooked from the first chapter, the first page, the first word. It is utterly gorgeous in every conceivable way. It doesn’t hold off on the violence of the time, of the power and the greed, but also of the love and the admiration.

I hadn’t heard of Clytemnestra before, which I think gave it an edge as I had no preconceptions going in as to what her story was.

What I really did enjoy were the mentions of other Greek characters such as Helen (of Troy fame), Achilles, Diomedes, Philoctetes, Ajax, Odysseus, Polydamas, Theseus, Agamemnon and Icarius, along with many, many others. It seemed odd to read them a “normal” people, with friends and lovers and hobbies. Whilst I know the names and the wars, I didn’t know too much about Greek mythological figures as a whole, so this was a great starting point.

Whilst all the characters were brilliantly written, this was Clytemnestra’s story, and I was on her side 100%. She shone on every page and you could see her growth from child to powerful Queen.

It is full of just the most beautiful description. From the weather to the clothes, the animals to the gardens, the war to the death. Costanza has given everything such attention, and you can easily visualise everything as if you were part of the scene.

I know there’s been criticism of mythological adaptations in the past as it feels a bit like a cop out, you don’t have to think of characters or plots, it’s already there for you. But I’m not sure I agree. In fact, I would say that makes it harder, as everyone knows these characters and this world, so you have to simultaneously make it relevant and true to the myth, but also fresh enough for an entertaining fictional read.

These are the kind of women I like reading about. Second citizens, at fear of injury, sexual assault, death, losing their children, their husbands, their friends. And yet they stand up and they fight. Not necessarily with swords and knives, but with their words and their love and their passion.

I’ve said before that my ideal book length is 300 pages. Anything more than that I sale with. Rarely does a book warrant its long page length, and at almost 500 pages, I was worried this would be one of them. But this is an exception. It flowed so beautifully that it never felt too long or a slog to get through. In fact, I read it in less than 24 hours. I couldn’t bear to be apart from it. For a book that nears 500 pages, there’s a lot of words, but none are wasted. Every word has been specifically chosen for that moment and none are throwaway.

It’s got a great balance between plot and character study. It’s thrilling and exciting and gory, but also peaceful and loving, with time for family and friends. It fits nicely into every descriptive term. It is so multi layered, with interconnecting lands and character and stories.

I now want to rewind time so I can read it completely anew again. It illuminates traditional Greek myths and makes them shine. It is fantastic historical fiction, and you can clearly see Costanza’s passion for the subject. From what I’ve seen alone, this is her debut novel and it’s sure going to put her on the map as an author to watch. If this is what she can produce as her debut, then I cannot wait for what’s next, whether it be ancient history or something more modern. Her character, world and story building is stunning.

I cannot wait to recommend it to just about everyone. This is the jewel amongst all the mythological fictions. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. When I put it down, I was wondering when I could pick it back up. I know it’s early days, but this is definitely a contender for my best books of 2023.

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