Debut novelist Laura Shepperson offers a powerful feminist retelling of Phaedra and her unyielding quest for justice, perfect for fans of Madeline Miller and Natalie Haynes.
Phaedra has been cast to the side all her life: daughter of an adulteress, sister of a monster, and now unwilling bride to the much-older, power-hungry Theseus. Young, naïve, and idealistic, she has accepted her lot in life, resigned to existing under the sinister weight of Theseus’s control and the constant watchful eye of her handsome stepson Hippolytus.
When supposedly pious Hippolytus assaults her, Phaedra’s world is darkened in the face of untouchable, prideful power. In the face of injustice, Phaedra refuses to remain quiet any longer: such an awful truth demands to be brought to light. When Phaedra publicly accuses Hippolytus of rape, she sparks an overdue reckoning.
The men of Athens gather to determine the truth. Meanwhile, the women of the city, who have no vote, are gathering in the shadows. The women know truth is a slippery thing in the hands of men. There are two sides to every story, and theirs has gone unheard. Until now.
Timely, unflinching, and transportive, Laura Shepperson’s Phaedra carves open long-accepted wounds to give voice to one of the most maligned figures of mythology and offers a stunning story of how truth bends under the weight of patriarchy but can be broken open by the force of one woman’s bravery.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
This female-centered retelling of the tragedy of Theseus and Phaedra opens up the story to multiple points of view, creating a more inclusive and powerful tale. After slaying her half brother, the Minotaur—portrayed in this book as a gentle soul born with a horrific deformity—Theseus takes the naive princess Phaedra as his unwilling bride. Mistreated in her new home, Phaedra must endure the unwelcome attentions of her teenage stepson, Hippolytus, culminating in an act of unexpected, shattering violence. Laura Shepperson structures the story like a classical Greek play, complete with multiple narrators and a recurring all-female chorus. This version of Phaedra feels stunningly relevant to the modern #MeToo era.
Shepperson shines in her debut, a plausible revisionist take on Greek mythology that gives voice and agency to Phaedra, a Cretan princess. On Crete, the Athenian prince and mythical hero Theseus manages to elicit the secrets of the island's labyrinth from Princess Ariadne and kill the feared Minotaur. Phaedra, Ariadne's younger sister, is horrified; her brother had been born with a deformity but was a gentle soul, not the man-eating beast of legend. Her distress is compounded when she's given in marriage to Theseus and must start a new life in Athens, where she's housed in a dirty room and isolated from her new husband. While Theseus seems to have no interest in her, his teenage son Hippolytus, rumored to be the son from Theseus's rape of an Amazon queen, does, despite his vow of chastity to the goddess Artemis. That leads to another act of violence that Shepperson adds to the traditional telling of the myth, along with a different, but still tragic, resolution. Shepperson's infusion of psychological depth into mythical archetypes will remind many of Robert Graves's Hercules, My Shipmate. This inspired feminist retelling will captivate readers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I had a difficult time setting it down at any point—it broke my heart, enraged me, and, above all, captivated me.
Unable to put down
I could not put this down. Thank you.