Synopses & Reviews
"Troy meant one thing only to the men gathered here, as it did to their commanders. Troy was a dream of wealth; and if the wind continued the dream would crumble."
As the harsh wind holds the Greek fleet trapped in the straits at Aulis, frustration and political impotence turn into a desire for the blood of a young and innocent woman blood that will appease the gods and allow the troops to set sail. And when Iphigeneia, Agamemnon's beloved daughter, is brought to the coast under false pretences, and when a knife is fashioned out of the finest and most precious of materials, it looks as if the ships will soon be on their way. But can a father really go to these lengths to secure political victory, and can a daughter willingly give up her life for the worldly ambitions of her father?
Throwing off the heroic values we expect of them, Barry Unsworth's mythic characters embrace the political ethos of the twenty-first century and speak in words we recognize as our own. The blowhard Odysseus warns the men to not "marginalize" Agamemnon and to "strike while the bronze is hot." High-sounding principles clash with private motives, and dark comedy ensues. Here is a novel that stands the world on its head.
"Provocative and subversive....Unsworth's narrative method is as daring as his message; his prose is a mixture of classic cadences and contemporary vernacular, animated by beautifully descriptive vignettes and bawdy humor." Publishers Weekly
"[A]n incandescent novel....[I]n part a desolate myth told with the fate-drunk lurch of Greek drama, in part a mordant contemporary satire on the unequal struggle between humanity and its corruption through the ends and means of war and power." Richard Eder, The New York Times
"The world of Homeric epic and Euripidean tragedy is brought sharply to life in British master Unsworth's gorgeously detailed, astute 14th novel....[A] cleverly paced retelling..." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] rich and vivid [portrait], eruditely developed, beautifully described....The Songs of the Kings [is] more admirable for its ideas than its emotional range..." Neil Gordon, The New York Times Book Review
"The Songs of the Kings is a beautifully measured entertainment given gravity by how accurately it reflects the present political zeal to control the media." The Independent (London)
"[M]aintains page-turning suspense right to the end. While Unsworth makes the novel accessible to anyone, readers with some knowledge of Greek mythology will particularly appreciate its subtleties." Tom LeClair, Book Magazine
"This classical time when history and myth intersect provides ample opportunity for the distinguished novelist to accomplish his usual gracious exploration of the unique textures of past cultures, and his many fans will not be disappointed." Brad Hooper, Booklist
"[I]ntellectually agile, thrillingly stylish....The Songs of the Kings effortlessly proves that modern life is the stuff of ancient myth." The Guardian (U.K.)
"Pure gold....One of the best books by this most versatile of writers." Penelope Lively
"We are still arguing about what the Trojan War means, just as we're likely to go on arguing about what the current war means for many years. The latest installment in the conversation is British author Barry Unsworth's new novel, The Songs of the Kings
. Unsworth's conception of why people go to war and what persuades them to lay down their lives for what often doesn't amount to much more than an idea is a very modern one. He doesn't just court comparisons between the Trojan War and the current one; he practically begs them...." Laura Miller, Salon.com
(read the entire Salon review
As the harsh wind holds the Greek fleet trapped in the straits at Aulis, frustration and political impotence turn into a desire for the blood of a young woman blood that will appease the gods and allow the troops to set sail.
About the Author
Barry Unsworth (1930-2012), who won the Booker Prize for Sacred Hunger, was a Booker Prize finalist for Morality Play and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for The Ruby in Her Navel.