Elektra by Jennifer Saint

Posted On 6 June 2022

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My Five Word TL:DR Review: Greek Tragedy from Female Perspective

Elektra

Elektra is the second book by Jennifer Saint in which she brings to life those characters from Greek myth that are usually overlooked or play only a small role.  The first book by this author was the story of Ariadne, a tale I really enjoyed and so I couldn’t wait to tuck into this one.  I’m really enjoying these stories and think Jennifer Saint does a great job of bringing the characters to life.  For the record I will say that I’m not an expert on Greek myth and that could be a reason why these stories hold so much appeal to me because a lot of the content is new.  Also, from the outset I will say that the characters here are not really having a great deal of fun for the most part.  The Trojan wars provide the backdrop, two of the characters spend the majority of the book thinking of nothing but revenge and let’s be honest, Greek Tragedies are not famed for their light and breezy nature.  And, again, I would mention that these stories are not intended to alter the tales of old so much as shine a spotlight in a different direction and provide a perspective that is little seen.  So, with that in mind.

The story actually follows three characters whose tales are brought together in a fascinating story of love and betrayal..

Clytemnestra – wife to Agamemnon (whose house is cursed).  Sister to Helen, whose famous beauty sparked the infamous Trojan war and the sacking of Troy.  Mother to a number of children one of which led to her all consuming desire for revenge whilst one of the other daughters developed feelings of hatred.

Cassandra – A Princess of Troy, daughter to Priam and a priestess of Apollo.  Cassandra sought the gift of sight from Apollo and having been granted it refused his advances and incurred his wrath.  He cursed her so that although she could see the future no one would believe her prophecies.  People instead assumed she was striving to be important and when that failed they thought she’d had a mental breakdown.

Elektra – daughter to Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. A young woman devoted to a father she barely knows.  Saviour of her brother and complicit in his role in killing their mother.  Talk about a tragedy.

I don’t want to over elaborate on the plot.  Basically, Clytemnestra is tricked by Agamemnon into taking her eldest daughter to be wed to Achilles.   Instead, Agamemnon sacrifices his first daughter to ensure a fair wind for his armies ships to sail to Troy.  I mean, I can’t deny I’d probably see the red mist myself in such circumstances.  From that point forward, stricken with grief and besotted with the desire for retribution, Clytemnestra can think of little else other than the safe return of the King so that she can take her revenge out upon him.  During this time it is fair to say that she neglects her younger children a little.  Elektra develops a fixation on her father, believing he can do no wrong, she was too young to be affected by the death of her eldest sister and she puts Agamemnon on a pedestal.  Her devotion sets her at odds with her mother.  Meanwhile, Cassandra gives us the inside view of what’s taking place at Troy.  Unable to make anyone take heed of her dire warnings she can only watch with dismay as her dreadful prophecies come to pass.

As with Ariadne the writing really stood out for me.  Saint manages to conjure a place easily with an almost casual inclusion of small everyday things such as food and clothing without resorting to heavy descriptions.

The dilemma of course is that this isn’t a pleasant story, the characters gradually spiral into obsession.  Elektra’s excessive devotion to her father, who was actually disliked by many, is almost impossible to understand.  I was aghast that she had so little regard for the sacrifice of her sister and her mother’s grief.  On the other hand her mother was so careless about her children that she really didn’t help the situation at all.  She positively fixated on the need to avenge her first daughter, to the point that the rest of her family paled into insignificance.  It’s like she couldn’t see what she still had in front of her and so before you could say ‘Greek Tragedy’ an insurmountable rift had come between mother and daughter.

Cassandra’s role here, as I mentioned was really to give a view of sorts on the progress of the war and the eventual destruction of Troy.  She didn’t feel quite as deeply drawn as the other two characters.  The curse of Apollo was enough to drive her crazy, her mind constantly barraged by sights of the future, none of which she was able to relay to others in a meaningful way.  I confess I had a good deal of sympathy for her plight.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, as with Ariadne the ending felt a little rushed.  I think I was expecting a bit more of a drawn out intrigue and had a mounting sort of tension as the dreaded deed approached but the eventual act was so swiftly carried out that it took me a minute to realise that we’d moved swiftly on.  Also, there is of course the grim reality of actual life for women from Ancient Greece.  The characters we predominantly follow are of course very privileged but regardless their lives are still squandered cheaply.

Overall, I’m thoroughly enjoying these books, I feel like I’m getting a little glimpse into life from the female perspective and although these stories are quite often tragic I would love to read more.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4 of 5 stars.

9 Responses to “Elektra by Jennifer Saint”

  1. aquavenatus

    I need to read her series of Ancient Greek heroine retellings.

    • @lynnsbooks

      I enjoyed both this and Ariadne but I think I’m definitely in the right frame of mind for this type of book at the moment. I also really enjoyed Pat Barker’s latest books – the Silent Girls.
      Lynn 😀

      • @lynnsbooks

        That should be The Silence of the girls – doh

  2. Tammy

    I do like the sound of these books. They sound so dramatic and sort of depressing, but I’m pretty sure they’d work for me too.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yes, the author isn’t trying to change the story at all, so if you know your greek tales then this pretty much stays on track and a tragedy is still a tragedy. She’s more going for a different angle – kind of similar to what Pat Barker also did remarkably well with the Silence of the Girls and The Women of Troy.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    Ah, the convoluted passions of Greek tragedies! I loved these stories back in school, and I would certainly enjoy revisiting this one with this book. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I hope you get a chance. I’m loving some of these stories being retold from a different angle.
      Lynn 😀

  4. mervih

    Another book for the TBR! Yes, the lives of women in ancient times were pretty depressing, no matter if they were fictional or not. But sounds very promising.

    • @lynnsbooks

      The Pat Barker books (Silence of the Girls) were also very good.
      Lynn 😀

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