This is the review I received for WARRIOR’S PRIZE. It was a “recommended review” and will appear in the August edition of their magazine.
A carefully crafted tale that offers a fresh, woman-centered reevaluation of an ancient story. — Kirkus Reviews
In the Iliad, Briseis finds herself the prize of Achilles when the famed warrior kills her husband, King Mynes. Achilles’ surrendering her to King Agamemnon is a turning point in the Trojan War, but her appearances are fleeting in Homer’s epic. Medieval poets will develop her character further, and the resulting romances will inspire Shakespeare, for whom Briseis becomes Cressida. Douglas goes back to the source while creating a distinctive hero. Here, Briseis accepts a loveless arranged marriage as her lot but discovers a sense of loyalty to Mynes when she’s treated as the spoils of war. Her beauty—and fiery spirit—attracts the attention of the “fair and honorable” Achilleus (the author uses the alternative spelling) after he kills Mynes. Accepting the role of Achilleus’ favorite would give her freedoms and luxuries other captives are denied, but to do so would dishonor her husband’s memory and herself. It’s only after she has prayed for release from Achilleus that she falls in love with him. By then, the gods have already intervened—or is she just playing a part decreed by the Fates? In making Briseis the hero of her story, Douglas skillfully gives center stage to women who are mostly silent pawns or invisible in the Iliad and most texts inspired by it. Briseis finds friends—and enemies—among the women captured by the Greeks. She forges alliances with Andromache—the wife of Achilleus’ greatest rival—and Helen of Troy. Whatever sides their husbands or lovers are on, these women must look out for themselves. But unless Douglas chooses to break with Homer—and the laws of Greek drama—an unhappy ending is ordained. Briseis begs Achilleus to forget about his honor and take her to his home so they can live in peace. This is where the narrative starts to strain credulity. Briseis’ desires are understandable, but her apparent ignorance of the roles of honor and a heroic death in her universe doesn’t make much sense—especially given her commitment to protecting her husband’s honor by not giving herself to Achilleus. That said, Douglas adds emotional heft to the bare bones of a foundational work of Western literature.
A carefully crafted tale that offers a fresh, woman-centered reevaluation of an ancient story.