Penelope’s Daughter

Written by Laurel Corona
Review by Ann Pedtke

Born soon after her father Odysseus sails for Troy, Xanthe is left behind to grow up on the rocky isle of Ithaca, hearing stories of the parent she never knew. Everyone in the palace waits and hopes for Odysseus’ return – but when the other heroes of the Trojan War come home and Odysseus remains absent, Ithaca falls into unrest. With Xanthe’s brother Telemachus too young and weak to take his father’s place, the young men of Ithaca see marriage to Xanthe as the surest way to claim the vacant throne. To save herself from abduction, Xanthe must fake her own death and escape to Sparta, where the beautiful Helen has returned to keep court alongside Menelaus. Growing up in Sparta, Xanthe comes to know the troubled woman who caused the Trojan War, while experiencing a spiritual and sexual awakening beyond anything she has known in Ithaca. But will it ever be safe to return to her homeland? And will Xanthe’s destiny always be tied to the father she has never seen?

Laurel Corona brings Homeric Greece vividly to life, offering new perspectives on Helen, Penelope, and other female figures of the Odyssey. Her portrayal of ancient Greek religion is insightful, and Xanthe is a brave but refreshingly vulnerable heroine. Nonetheless, the framework Corona chooses for her tale – Xanthe weaving the story of her life in hindsight as she is locked upstairs during Odysseus’ final battle with the suitors – is often confusing, and robs the narrative of its immediacy. Xanthe’s romance with Peisistratus is too convenient and orderly to be believable or engaging, and the final scenes seem rushed as Xanthe sits back and watches her fate decided for her. While beautifully told, this novel leaves the reader craving a more satisfying conclusion to all of Xanthe’s struggles.