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Sep 28, 2010

Book Review: Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona

Penelope's Daughter; available October 5, 2010
Berkley Trade Paperback Original October 5, 2010 $15.00
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:

The award-winning author of "The Four Seasons" retells "The Odyssey" from the point of view of Odysseus and Penelope's daughter.

With her father Odysseus gone for twenty years, Xanthe barricades herself in her royal chambers to escape the rapacious suitors who would abduct her to gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother's cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.

And when a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future-a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn't know she exists...
Years ago in high school I was forced to read the Iliad and/or the Odyssey .. I retained nothing from the story though. Luckily for Homer, here comes Laurel Corona breathing new life into the age old tale, with her story of Penelope's Daughter. Xanthe is the daughter of Odysseus and Penelope, and with wonderful magnetism I was drawn to this tale of a young woman struggling to achieve her mother's affection. Once that occurred, she was forced to leave Ithaca in secrecy as protection against the men who were eager to take Odysseus' wife or daughter and kingdom for their own.

Xanthe goes to her mother's cousin and childhood friend, Helen of Troy, in Sparta. Here she becomes a young woman under Helen's careful watch, and Xanthe loves her almost immediately. The customs of the times and of Helen's servants are described in detail and I was enthralled with the experiences of Xanthe as the author retells them in first person from Xanthe's sometimes jaded and naive point of view. Laurel Corona illuminates Xanthe's world of Ithaca and Sparta as she exhibits some of the trials of becoming a teenager.

Laurel Corona re-imagines Homer's story and brings the women to the forefront of it, relaying the sexual awakenings of Xanthe and the worshipping of goddesses into a hypnotic story of Xanthe's journey towards her fate. Xanthe was a character that I could be sympathetic to, as she was born to a man that had already left her mother and disappeared for twenty years leaving his family behind in a tumultuous situation. Xanthe's life could never be her own since she was a princess, and for that fact alone she would not be safe until her father would return to reclaim his family.

Building Xanthe's story, Laurel Corona inserts many new theories into the traditional story of the adventurer Odysseus, but I was intrigued most by the female characters that drove Corona's story, such as Penelope and Helen of Troy. The servants who were Xanthe's best friends and protectors were strong characters in the novel, and the disdain for Xanthe's brother Telemachus was a prominent undercurrent of its own. There was a lot of foreshadowing as Xanthe was weaving her story on her loom, which I found added another intriguing layer to the story in itself.

There were not many strong or likable male characters in the novel, although the wishful thinking for Odysseus' return was seen as the one thing that could salvage all of their lives in Ithaca. Xanthe meets a man in Sparta whom she connects to, but her future is held in limbo as Ithaca awaits the return of Odysseus. Would Xanthe get what she wants upon that return? Would her mother, Penelope, be able to reconcile with the man that left her behind and caused such upheaval by his very absence?  This well-researched story though is told with an aura of mythical times that blended fluidly with humanity's pain, triumph and upheaval. I found the ending to be a bit less passionate than I had expected, but the entirety of the novel was very well put together and helped bring a better understanding to an epic time period. I hope that the author honors us with more novels like this one, as I truly enjoyed the writing style and the vision of Laurel Corona and will definitely read more stories from her.

Stay tuned to The Burton Review on 10/4 there will be a guest post from Laurel and a book giveaway!