By: Angie Haddock & Tory Tanguay
The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.
The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them, and determines to win, whatever the cost.
Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.
The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But, can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?
While the Goodreads blurb gives some of the basics here, a little of the story might be helpful before we get into the conversation we had about this one!
We briefly meet sisters Helen and Clytemnestra in their home of Sparta, before they marry brothers Menelaus and Agamemnon. Helen stays in Sparta, and Clytemnestra moves with her husband to his kingdom of Mycenae.
Years later, Agamemnon is leading the Greek forces to Troy. On the eve of the Trojan war, he kills his and Clytemnestra’s oldest daughter, Iphigenia, as a sacrifice to the gods. Clytemnestra was tricked into taking the daughter to him, and lives out the ten years of the war waiting to seek revenge on her husband.
Tory and Angie both read this one recently, and here are some thoughts.
Angie: So, I guess the first thing that came to my mind is… we have 3 different perspectives. Was there one that resonated with you more than the others? Or, conversely, one you didn’t like as well?
Tory: I feel like I resonated more with Clytemnestra especially considering her understandably very heart-wrenching reaction to the loss of her daughter. I feel like her responses were something along the lines of what I would experience if I had been in her shoes.
What about you?
Angie: Same, at least at first. I felt like her situation was so horrific, and I wanted to give her a lot of leeway for the decisions she made. I also felt like Elektra’s perspective was very sheltered. She was young, and idolized her dad, but it came from a place of… well, of course, he’s her dad. So he could do no wrong, ya know?
Which made it interesting later, that she became more and more like her mom as she became an adult. Whether she saw it or not.
Tory: I felt the same about Elektra. Like she really wasn’t considering the whole picture. Sure you can idolize your dad and think he hung the moon but to totally absolve them of cold-blooded murder?
Now I’ve been a Greek mythology buff since I was a pre-teen. Did you have any knowledge of this storyline or characters before you read the novel?
Angie: And really, I think kids would be just as likely to idolize either parent? So the fact that she gave no grace to her mom… really came from Clytemnestra’s subsequent distractedness. Like, her dad wasn’t around for the next 10 years, so she could keep an idealized version of him in her mind… but not of her mom.
Angie: I’m not really deeply versed in it. Like, I knew the basic plot points of the Trojan war, and I’d read “Circe” as an adult.
But I couldn’t say I remembered who Elektra or Clytemnestra was. The name Cassandra sounded more familiar to me, but I wouldn’t have remembered her story per se.
How did this stack up against your prior knowledge of these characters?
Tory: So I first became knowledgeable about basic Greek myths (like origins of the gods type stuff, basic how the world works things) when I was about 12-ish? But the story of Elektra (also spelled Electra) I really became familiar with after having to read the play by the same name in high school if I remember correctly by either Sophocles or Euripides. (Both of them wrote plays regarding the story but I don’t remember which one I read.)
Jennifer Saint’s version seems to stick to my knowledge and remembrance of the story but I thought it was interesting how she added Cassandra’s version in there too because she really has such a minor part in the whole thing.
It was nice for background information especially from the Trojan aspect of things but I wonder if she could’ve gotten away with not having her point of view at all.
Angie: Hers did not entirely fit with the other two. But like you said… I feel like having a voice within Troy just helped us, as the readers, keep tabs on Agamemnon and how the war was going?
I felt like her story was semi-interesting in its own right, but could have definitely been a different book.
Tory: I completely agree.
I sometimes felt like Cassandra’s version of events was just in there to make a fairly short book slightly longer.
Angie: Ha! Fair enough.
Tory: Now going back to Electra and what you mentioned about her having an idealized version of her father, I kinda get the impression that she is completely responsible for Orestes’ view of Agamemnon. Like if Electra didn’t exist then Orestes wouldn’t have had a real view of his father to begin with.
Tory: Does that make sense? He wasn’t even born yet when his dad left and then because of Electra he takes on the same view.
Angie: Yep, fair. And if anyone gets unfairly shafted in this book, I feel like it’s Orestes and Georgios.
Tory: Oh completely.
Angie: Cassandra, ok, I’ll say she didn’t create too many of the agonies she was dealt. But everyone else… kinda did.
Tory: If I remember the plays correctly I think Georgios is strictly made up for the story.
Angie: Ah, good to know. But, it does give Elektra a place to hide out for a while, so I think it’s an ok addition?
Tory: A “you reap what you sow” kind of idea?
I think having him in there works for the story.
Angie: I mean, yea… I guess to an extent, Clytemnestra losing her oldest daughter was only brought on by her husband (not her). Although, she talks about having that fear of his line being cursed, anyway. But after that… she basically loses her youngest two children because of her rage over the first one. And Elektra grows up to also live a life fueled by vengeance.
As did Aegisthus.
Tory: You’re right, Clytemnestra didn’t bring things on by herself at first but her reactions to the events did so. One thing you learn after reading a lot of Greek myths and tragic plays and such is that you can’t escape fate.
So if Agamemnon’s family line is destined to be cursed, it’s gonna be cursed no matter what you do or don’t do
Angie: Ok, so… since you’re more versed in it… does the curse continue? I honestly didn’t see Elektra becoming a mom herself, but she does in the end…
Tory: I feel like and through that and her response to her daughter’s death, like we’ve said, she brings on the continuing cycle through giving Elektra a need for vengeance.
Oooh good question! I think as far as we know it ends with Elektra and Orestes just cause we don’t hear anything else about the characters because the plays end. But I could be wrong.
Angie: It’s interesting to me that she did become a mom, but… I wonder if she really didn’t know that much about the history of her own family? She and her mom spent so much of her childhood avoiding each other, it’s possible.
Tory: And does the generational trauma end with her? It’s interesting to think about.
Tory: It’s an interesting choice by Saint to be sure.
Angie: Ok, so another thought I had… we agreed that Georgios and Orestes get the major shaft. So, could we say that, in this story, the men are largely used as chess pieces by the women of the book? Even though the men are technically in charge in their society… are they really?
And I think, along with that…we have to consider Helen! We don’t get her perspective here, but all these men went to war for her.
Tory: Oh that’s a great thought! At least in this story I would agree with that cause in the original tellings of these storylines it’s completely the opposite.
Angie: Interesting. So… ok, I’d say Helen gets off basically scot-free here. The rest of the women do see consequences to their actions. But overall, we might consider this to be a feminist retelling of the story? Just based on how these women wield their power over their lovers, brothers, etc.?
Tory: I could see that. At least it being the women’s side of the events of the Trojan war aftermath.
However, I usually think of feminist stories as women taking matters into their own hands with a better outcome and I don’t really think a better outcome happens in this case.
Angie: For sure, they all make a mess of things.
Tory: A large bloody mess.
Angie: Are there any other points you want to discuss before we wrap up?
Tory: The only other thing I’ve been thinking about since we first mentioned Georgios is that I saw him as a hopeful redemption arc for Elektra. Like, he agreed with her that Agamemnon was awesome but at the same time wanted her to let go of that idealized fantasy a little and just move on with life.
But Elektra sees the possibility of redemption so to speak (settling down, being a wife and parent with him) and just looks at it and is like “Nah.”
The cursed line could have ended there but it doesn’t.
Angie: So it’s like… that offer of living a redemptive, different life was right there, but she just couldn’t quite do it.
Angie: She is, for all intents and purposes, her parents’ child.