The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

After reading Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls a few years ago, I wasn’t really expecting a sequel, but here it is: The Women of Troy. I’m sure if you wanted to you could read this one as a standalone, but I would recommend reading both as this is a direct continuation of the first. Together, the two novels tell the story of the Trojan War and its aftermath.

The Silence of the Girls was based on the events of Homer’s Iliad; this second novel is set after the fall of Troy, when the victorious Greek invaders are stranded on the shore, waiting for the winds to change so that their ships can sail home. Trapped there with them are the Trojan women they have taken captive, some of whom were once queens and princesses but are now treated as slaves. Among them is Briseis, who had been taken by the great Greek warrior Achilles as a war prize and then married off to his friend Alcimus after Achilles’ death.

As in the previous novel, Briseis is our main narrator, but there are also some chapters written from other perspectives: Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, desperate to prove himself as great as his father, and Calchas, a priest and prophet. One of my criticisms of The Silence of the Girls was that, despite the title, we only actually heard the voice of one girl, Briseis, while large sections of the book were written from the point of view of Achilles – and the title of The Women of Troy also seems slightly misleading, as we have two male perspectives and only one female. However, this time I felt that, at least through Briseis’ eyes, we do see more of the other women in the camp than we did in the first book. These include Hecuba, the former Queen of Troy and wife of the murdered King Priam; their daughter Cassandra, who has the gift – or curse – of prophecy; and Andromache, the widow of Hector who was killed by Achilles during the war. All of these women have interesting stories of their own, as well as now all sharing the same problem: how to cope with living amongst the men who destroyed their city.

Then – and now – people seem to take it for granted that I loved Achilles. Why wouldn’t I? I had the fastest, strongest, bravest, most beautiful man of his generation in my bed – how could I not love him?

He killed my brothers.

We women are peculiar creatures. We tend not to love those who murder our families.

As this entire novel is set during that period of waiting for the weather to change, it’s a slower paced and more character-driven story than the previous one. The plot, so much as there is one, revolves around the attempts of the Trojans to bury the body of their beloved King Priam, brutally killed by Pyrrhus and denied proper burial. Despite this, I still found the story quite gripping and enjoyed getting to know some of the women better. I’m wondering whether there will be a third book, as this one felt very like the middle book in a trilogy to me.

Thanks to Penguin UK for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

Book 40/50 read for the 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

13 thoughts on “The Women of Troy by Pat Barker

  1. joulesbarham says:

    I can see what you mean about the “women” of Troy – I felt that there was a lot about the male characters in Silence and perhaps it was misleadingly titled. Still I am looking forward to this one, so I will be eager to see what the balance is overall. Thanks for this review!

    • Helen says:

      It just seems strange to me to specifically mention ‘girls’ and ‘women’ in the titles and then to focus so much on the men. I did enjoy both books, though!

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    Excellent. I have ‘The Silence of the Girls’ yet to be scheduled presently sitting in a pile of other “Ancient World” novels. I’ll be picking up the sequel as soon as it hits paperback. Oddly the Trojan Wars seems to be cropping up quite frequently in my reading stack. I’ve read ‘Odysseus – The Oath’ by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, ‘The Mighty Dead – Why Homer Matters’ by Adam Nicolson and ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller all in the last 6 months, all pretty much without any conscious planning on my part.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy The Silence of the Girls! I haven’t read a lot of Trojan novels – and only The Song of Achilles from those you mention – but I always find them interesting.

  3. Jane says:

    I agree there was a lot of Achilles in The Silence of the Girls but because it was written from a female perspective I thought it gave a more complete picture of the world Briseis found herself in, I saw him as a part of her world rather than the other way around, if that makes sense?!
    I’m looking forward to this and finding out about the other women, as soon as it’s in pb.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, that does make sense! I just think the titles of the two books are a bit misleading. I really enjoyed them both anyway, especially this second one!

  4. GoAnnelies - In Another Era says:

    I didn’t feel the need for a sequel after Silence, but I’ll read this one. It sounds a bit like ‘A thousand ships’ where also a big part of the novel was about the Trojan women waiting on the beach to know who will be sold to which man. So I’m not sure how you can fill a whole novel with that. But still, it sounds promising!

    • Helen says:

      I’m not sure that a sequel was really needed, but I still enjoyed this book anyway. I preferred A Thousand Ships though, because we got to hear the stories of more of the women.

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