Though women abound in tales of the Trojan War, their roles in the grand scheme of things see them all to often relegated to the sidelines. And those that push (or are pushed) forward – the Olympian goddesses, the Helens of Troy, the cursed Cassandras – are often one-dimensional, intended to moralise or frighten or inspire.
Author Janell Rhiannon isn’t on board with that. In Song of Sacrifice, the first in the Homeric Chronicles, the women are front and centre, whether they’re whispering in men’s ears, falling hopelessly in love, or fighting their unfair destinies.
Generally speaking, it’s a strong opener for the series. Despite their hefty number, the characters are well established, the romances (and inevitable heartbreaks) are believable, and there’s plenty of emotional cliffhangers to keep the pages turning.
Rhiannon’s writing style suits the story well, simple and elegant like the ancient texts that inspired the work. With a strong timeline and plenty of research into both the historical and the mythological, Song of Sacrifice is an easy and engaging read, even as the subject matter dips into the more violent storylines. We are, of course, dealing with the Ancient Greek gods here, so for those of you who aren’t familiar with the mythology, consider this your content warning for rape, sexual assault, and violence.
Yet the simplicity of Song of Sacrifice’s storytelling is as much its biggest weakness as it is its biggest strength. Staying so true to the original elements of the tale means that the room for the various women to really grow and shine is limited – it literally is just the same tale told the other side. There’s much to be said for the powerful injection of personality and emotion into these forgotten characters – and you will absolutely find yourself rooting for these women, Clytemnestra in particular – but more could still have been done here. Song of Sacrifice gives voice to the voiceless, yes, but it’s still not really their story.
I’ve every intention of reading on in this series – like I said, Clytemnestra really got under my skin – but for those who are hoping for something along the lines of (and I hate to bring it up, because I’m sure Rhiannon’s heard it all before) Madeline Miller’s Circe, Song of Sacrifice will require a slight expectation adjustment. The world building is incredible, and the level of research simply stunning, but don’t expect much deeper exploration than “there were women there too”.