An exceptional combination of history and mythology - 'an intriguing, luxuriously realised novel' FINANCIAL TIMES
'Like Spartan Helen, I caused a war. She caused hers by letting men who wanted her take her. I caused mine because I wouldn't be given, wouldn't be taken, but chose my man and my fate. The man was famous, the fate obscure; not a bad balance.'
Lavinia is the daughter of the King of Latium, a victorious warrior who loves peace; she is her father's closest companion. Now of an age to wed, Lavinia's mother favours her own kinsman, King Turnus of Rutulia, handsome, heroic, everything a young girl should want. Instead, Lavinia dreams of mighty Aeneas, a man she has heard of only from a ghost of a poet, who comes to her in the gods' holy place and tells her of her future, and Aeneas' past...
If she refuses to wed Turnus, Lavinia knows she will start a war - but her fate was set the moment the poet appeared to her in a dream and told her of the adventurer who fled fallen Troy, holding his son's hand and carrying his father on his back...
In the Aeneid, the only notable lines Virgil devotes to Aeneas second wife, Lavinia, concern an omen: the day before Aeneus lands in Latinum, Lavinia s hair is veiled by a ghost fire, presaging war. Le Guin s masterful novel gives a voice to Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus and Queen Amata, who rule Latinum in the era before the founding of Rome. Amata lost her sons to a childhood sickness and has since become slightly mad. She is fixated on marrying Lavinia to Amata s nephew, Turnus, the king of neighboring Rutuli. It s a good match, and Turnus is handsome, but Lavinia is reluctant. Following the words of an oracle, King Latinus announces that Lavinia will marry Aeneas, a newly landed stranger from Troy; the news provokes Amata, the farmers of Latinum, and Turnus, who starts a civil war. Le Guin is famous for creating alternative worlds (as in Left Hand of Darkness), and she approaches Lavinia s world, from which Western civilization took its course, as unique and strange as any fantasy. It s a novel that deserves to be ranked with Robert Graves s I, Claudius.