Genre: Historical fiction, Mythology
Source: Received for review from publisher as part of Audiobook Jukebox Solid Gold Reviewer Program
“In Greek myth, Alcestis is known as the ideal good wife; she loved her husband so much that she died to save his life and was sent to the underworld in his place. In this poetic and vividly-imagined debut, Katharine Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal, bringing to life the world of Mycenaean Greece, a world peopled by capricious gods, where royal women are confined to the palace grounds and passed as possessions from father to husband. Alcestis tells of a childhood spent with her sisters in the bedchamber where her mother died giving birth to her and of her marriage at the age of fifteen to Admetus, the young king of Pherae, a man she barely knows, who is kind but whose heart belongs to a god. She also tells the part of the story that's never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld before being rescued by Heracles? In the realm of the dead, Alcestis falls in love with the goddess Persephone and discovers the true horror and beauty of death.”
This book was hit and miss for me and I had been dying to read it for so long that it was a little disappointing to me. I love reading Greek mythology – all of the interfering Gods and Goddesses, Heroes etc. I also have enjoyed reading novelized treatments of these myths as the world is fleshed out for us and we get to know more about the characters themselves.
Where this book was its strongest was with the depictions of Greek culture and mythology. We are treated to the requisite interfering Gods and the rites and sacrifices that were a daily concern. We get an accurate picture of how women were treated in Greek life. Alcestis was characterized as a decent daughter and wife who continued to feel the loss of her sister years earlier to an illness. The first half of the book was enjoyable – and this is the portion that is based on the myth.
Where the story let go for me was the part that was entirely the creation of the author – when she descends into the underworld. The character of Alcestis seemed to have an abrupt shift of personality. She still longed to find her sister (which felt in character) however it was made quite clear that she was unhappy in her life – which had not really been hinted at during the entire first half of the book. While in the underworld, Alcestis falls in love with the Goddess Persephone – which felt very out of character for her and there was an awkward love scene – because it came out of nowhere and didn’t feel right to the character that had been established thus far. I did enjoy how the underworld was described and how we were treated to what life was like for those who had passed on. The world itself was very well crafted; however the abrupt character shift was lost on me.
Included at the end of the novel was a very good historical note about what is known to us from the Alcestis myth and what we know about her descendents and who they were and what role they played in mythology.
If there was more consistency to the character of Alcestis I would have been much more happy with the novel and it probably would have improved by a whole star.
I also did not like the narrator for this book. Her voice annoyed me and there were many times where she tried to be dramatic, but this failed. It just didn’t come off well.
You can visit Katherine Beutner’s website/blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
You can listen to the author reading the prologue here. And if you want to listen to an excerpt of the actual audio book go here.
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