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Guest Review: Literace Reviews: These Great Athenians: Retold Passages for Seldom Heard Voices by Valentine Carter

At first, I was hesitant and skeptical about reading These Great Athenians by Valentine Carter. Oh, how wrong I was. I will admit that this may not be a book for those who aren’t well versed in Greek mythology and Homer’s Odyssey. Regardless it is such an eclectically written book that it was a joy to read. Keep reading to get a more in-depth look at this book!


Faithful Penelope waits for her husband’s return as she weaves a shroud that foretells her doom, Scylla once a beautiful nymph turned monster prowls the seas hungry for flesh, while the witch Circe falls for a man who will leave her. Weaving together their stories and poetic voices, this subtly moving and playful verse novel questions how do those without a voice find freedom within the world of men?


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Again, I must emphasize that unfortunately much of the appeal of These Great Athenians and what made it so excellent may be lost on some people. This means the characters, aspects of the plot, and even narrative style might leave some readers lost. 

In some chapters, Carter uses the oh-so-recognizable repetitive style of Homeric poetry that Classics students love to hate. Or was that just me? To some, this formula will be offputting. I think that the use of this style was very well done. The chapter on Penelope used the same formulaic narrative but slightly adjusted it to reflect the changes that she experienced in the Odyssey. It is a clever way to utilize this trope but also spin it in a fresh narrative way.  

Different women in the Odyssey tell each part of the book. We follow the general order of the Odyssey with Penelope, Calypso, Melantho, Scylla, women in the Hades, Circe, Athena, and Dawn. Each of these sections contains different parts of Odysseus’ journey but highlights the women’s experiences in each. Female-centered retellings have become a popular genre and I am here to say, I’m not tired of it yet. Especially in Ancient Greek literature, women are often either victimized or vilified. Carter does a great job of giving these women a voice and a stronger role in their own stories.


Carter’s Homeric story through the female lens in These Great Athenians is clever, intelligent, inventive, and beautiful. I truly loved reading this book and I look forward to more books written by Valentine Carter. This was a very impressive debut novel in terms of the use of written word and the ease with which they make old stories fresh and new again. 

Find These Great Athenians on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, & The Book Depository


What was the most recent book that pleasantly proved you wrong?

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