I was excited to be invited to take part in the blog tour for Emily Hauser’s debut novel, For The Most Beautiful. I have always enjoyed reading historical fiction novels as it allows readers to get a glimpse into a world different from today, one which we have not explored. The publication of For The Most Beautiful has introduced an exciting new voice to the genre, and I couldn’t wait to get reading.
‘Choose,’ she says, reaching out towards him. ‘Choose to which of us the apple most belongs.’
I was first drawn to this novel as I had not read any books that focus on Greek mythology. For The Most Beautiful is inspired by Iliad, a poem written by Homer around 2,500 years ago. This epic narrative told the story of Troy many people will be familiar with – the famous warrior Achilles and his dual with Hector, the battle to win Helen and the city of Troy. There are aspects of this story that we recognise but what is special about this book is that the spotlight is on two women whose stories have not been told, whose names are rarely spoken of. It is their absence from the Iliad despite playing such pivotal roles that led Emily Hauser to write this novel, and in doing so she has brought two remarkable women’s stories to life.
‘My city, my home, my love were dust and air and carrion for birds…’
The narrative alternates between the two women, Briseis and Krisayis. Briseis is the princess of Pedasus and Krisayis (whose name has been changed from Chryseis to avoid confusion) is the daughter of Polydamas, the High Priest of Troy. At the beginning of the novel we learn that Krisayis is in love with Troilus and that Briseis has found love with Mynes despite a prophecy which seemed to rule out any possibility of love. Soon the lives of both narrators are thrown into turmoil and they are both captured. The fact that we see these events unfold from a female perspective makes us think more about the impact of war. Whilst the brutality of war and loss of those men who are on the battlefield is well documented, the consequences for the women left behind are less so. It is heartbreaking to see these women lose their families, their loved ones, to be forced into slavery. However, despite what the war has thrown at them, there is strength in Briseis and Krisayis that is a joy to read. They have found themselves in an unimaginable situation, yet they still have the power to save Troy.
‘In the skies above, seated on the peak of Mount Ida, Hera and Athena are watching the scene with undisguised pleasure.’
The chapters told by our two heroines are interspersed with a third person narrative of the Gods as they watch the events of the war unfold. This adds an extra mythological element to the story and it was interesting to see how Hauser has portrayed these characters who treat the mortals as playthings, watching and influencing the events beneath them. This combination of history and mythology combines to create a fascinating, entertaining read. Hauser is a classical scholar and this is easy to see in her writing. It is a wonderful re-telling of the story of Troy, one that has made the story more accessible and to a wider audience. I also liked the inclusion of the authors note, glossary and pronunciation guide which provides further background detail and is ideal for readers like myself who were not familiar with all of the names. I found this to be informative and it helped me gain a better understanding of the story and why it needed to be told.
‘It was a golden apple. I took it from him, turning it over to look at the soft gold sheen of its skin.’
I thoroughly enjoyed reading For The Most Beautiful. It is a well written reimagining of the story that makes us think about the women of Troy, giving a voice to the women who have long remained in the shadow of history. I was excited to see that this is the first in the ‘Golden Apple’ trilogy which features three stand-alone novels inspired by Ancient Greek mythology. With this in mind I am very much looking forward to reading the next instalment, and enjoying more of Hauser’s excellent writing.
For The Most Beautiful was published on 28th January 2016 by Doubleday. Many thanks to Patsy Irwin for providing a proof copy for review and to Lily Capewell for the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.