The setting and characters of this novel all stem from Virgil’s poem the Aeneid. In the poem, the character of Lavinia is minor and voiceless, while here she is the narrator of her life and the events surrounding her. This is not a straightforward tale; Lavinia is aware of herself as a literary character and even meets the poet in a strange mystic dream sequence. They discuss the poem and her place within it, and the poet foretells what will happen to her, raising the question of free will versus destiny. The jumping around of the story from past to present to future adds to the sense of inevitability as the event is first told in prophecy, and then we experience it in the present of the book. The mystical elements are reflected in the language with sentences such as “I am a fleck of light on the surface of the sea”.
I’m sure it’s all very deep and meaningful, but these parts for me detracted from the narrative drive. The historical details are well-researched and conjure up a sense of time and place, but the endless religious rituals with sacred salt and animal slaughtering became a little repetitive, as did the chunks recounting battles, truces and slaying. The pointlessness and casual carnage of war are clearly shown, and there are various musings on the nature of honour, the gods, and the attributes necessary for leadership. The book provides an interesting view into this ancient time and shows events from an unfamiliar and female perspective. I’m sure many would enjoy this novel, especially those who enjoy fantasy and myth, but for me, it failed to compel as much as I’d hoped.