The Songs of the Kings: A Novel
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The Songs of the Kings: A Novel

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  351 ratings  ·  44 reviews
“Troy meant one thing only to the men gathered here, as it did to their commanders. Troy was a dream of wealth; and if the wind continued the dream would crumble.”

As the harsh wind holds the Greek fleet trapped in the straits at Aulis, frustration and political impotence turn into a desire for the blood of a young and innocent woman – blood that will appease the gods and a...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 18th 2003 by Nan A. Talese (first published January 1st 2002)
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Christopher H.
I have just finished reading The Songs of the Kings by Booker Prize winner, Barry Unsworth. This is an eloquent and powerfully written novel that is quite thought-provoking on several levels. The novel was published in 2003, and I have to wonder if there was an external motivation behind Unsworth's writing of the novel than simply writing a good story? More on that in a moment though. First, I think it will be useful to provide a brief bit of background on a few important aspects of Greek mythol...more
Jane
Certainly an unusual book!! I really liked it. At first I took it as a straight retelling of the Iphigenia on Aulis myth. Then what I'd call "Charlie Brown" expressions, [like the "Peanuts" comic strip]--e.g., 'good grief', 'blockhead', were put into the mouths of the characters. I began to get an inkling the novel was more than it purported to be. The use of modern slang, clichés, and jargon words finally clinched it: this book is a satire on our modern ideas about waging war, politics, and the...more
James Oliver Burns
The face that launched a thousand ships, Helen of (Sperta)Troy, or could the real face that launched a thousand ships belong to Iphigeneia, beloved daughter of King Agamemnon? This the Story of the Trojan war, The Greek fleet is trapped in the straits at Aulis by a strong wind that was unfavorable to set sail to Troy, deniying the Greeks of plundering of great fortunes, and battle fame and Victory. The Men are layed up Idle, Tempers and nerves frayed to the breaking point. Inner tribe fighting...more
Jrobertus
The song of the kings, by Barry Unsworth., read by Andrew Sachs. This is a retelling of the play Iphigenia at Aulis, by Euripides. The Greek army under Agamemnon is trapped at Aulis by a high wind. There is a lot of plotting by Odysseus and a seer Calchas to undermine the king. A sign, including an eagle killing a pregnant hare, is interpreted to mean there is trouble between Zeus and Demeter (protector of mothers) and that to remove the curse and allow the fleet to sail to Troy, Agamemnon must...more
Marian Deegan
An army has gathered at the ocean's edge to sail across and plunder Troy. The motivation? Wealth. The excuse? Helen. Unrelenting winds prevent their departure, and must be appeased by sacrifice so that the war may commence. The sacrifice of the innocent for the sake of prosecuting a war; that is the story. An old story of a timeless {and very current} theme told new by a Booker Prize-winning master who manages with incisive verve to shrug off the lofty heroic myth and repaint the siege on Troy i...more
Πάνος Τουρλής
Η αλήθεια είναι ότι σκέφτηκα να το παρατήσω. Δύο φορές. Ευτυχώς που δεν το έκανα. Γνωρίζω πολύ καλά την ελληνική μυθολογία και δε θα μπορούσα να συνεχίσω να δαιβάζω ένα βιβλίο που ασχολείται με γνωστές ιστορίες, χωρίς να προσθέτει κάτι νέο (εδώ σταμάτησα για πρώτη φορά). Ιδιαίτερα όταν κατάλαβα ότι θα μιλήσει μόνο για τον χρόνο παραμονής των ελληνικών εκστρατευτικών σωμάτων στην Αυλίδα. Δηλαδή τι θα μπορούσε να γράψει για να γεμίσει το απέραντο κενό αυτής της απραξίας χωρίς να σκυλοβαρεθεί ο ανα...more
Mike
This review stands to be the best. I say that only because all the others are about a different Unsworth book. Computer glitch I suppose.

When I am done with this book, I hope to know two things: first, what "it" is, and second, what the Greeks call it.
Elaine
Stupid,weak, arrogant, egotistical men fill this insipid book. However, the underlying story on which this book is based is a classic.

The ancient Greeks thought the Trojan War was a historical event that had taken place in the 13th or 12th century BC.
The Trojan War has its roots in the marriage between Peleus and Thetis, a sea-goddess. Peleus and Thetis had not invited Eris, the goddess of discord, to their marriage and the outraged goddess stormed into the wedding banquet and threw a golden app...more
James
The Songs of the Kings is the story of Iphigenia in Aulis told as a black comic satire of contemporary Anglo-American politics and media. It was interesting to read this so soon after The Influencing Machine. The writing is skillful, with lyrical moments that are lovely and surprising and, apart from some very pointedly anachronistic language and social structure, e.g Agamemnon is Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Expeditionary Force, the Bronze Age milieu has a believable, fully-imagined texture....more
Perry Whitford
Barry Unsworth is a former winner of the Booker prize and he writes historical fiction. When I discovered that this book was about the Greek heroes of The Trojan War, more specifically the story of the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigeneia to appease the displeasure of Zeus, who has seemingly raised a persistent storm that prevents their departure across the Aegean from Aulis, I was naturally predisposed to like it, as re-tellings of those myths should hardly fail.
Why did this one fail f...more
Justine
So anyone who knows me well at all knows how much I love me some Homer. Naturally, when I saw this well reviewed "prequel" to the Iliad, I had to jump on that.

Reviewers talk about how Unsworth uses the Iliad to draw out some of the inconsistencies of war in light of current events, etc. This is subtly and very well done througout the book-- Unsworth deftly weaves in "modern" thought with the story in a way that makes me wonder, has human nature changed at all? Moreover, I'm shocked by how much...more
Marvin
Once again, Unsworth (Morality Play) proves himself a masterful storyteller, here retelling (or reimagining--I don't know the original well enough to know which) a portion of the story of the Iliad in which Agamemnon is manipulated by such Greek heroes as Odysseus & Achilles into agreeing to sacrifice his daughters to appease the army's sense that he needs to appease the gods who have sent winds that have bottled them up & prevented their advance to Troy. Unsworth makes no effort to avoi...more
K
Disclaimer: I gave up on this book 20% of the way through.

It was immediately obvious that this wasn't really my style (overly descriptive and deeply strange style of speech), but I really tried to stick with this, because I not very secretly hoped that Clytemnestra would make an appearance. I should have given up when I realized that Unsworth made every character into an obnoxious caricature based on their most easily identifiable characteristic in the Iliad. The final straw for me, though, was...more
James Fluckiger
Retelling of "Iphigenia at Aulis." The Greek fleet is stalled at Aulis, waiting for a favorable wind. Agamemnon is advised by priests that he must sacrifice his daughter before the Gods will allow them to sail on to Troy.
The whole cast is on hand in this novel: Agamemnon, Menelaus, Achilles, Odysseus, Ajax, Nestor, and so forth. Unsworth's take on this drama is smart, satirical, irreverent. The characters are all interested in self-promotion, power politics, egotistical posturing, wealth and sex...more
Kyra
All of the action of this novel takes place as the allied Greek fleet lies becalmed at Aulis, waiting for favourable winds to take them to Troy. Mr Unsworth has expanded this preface to the Trojan War into a witty political commentary - occasionally drifting into Monty Python territory - but oddly mesmerizing. There are some very obvious parallels to the recent conflict in Iraq (for instance), even though the novel was written earlier. In the end most wars are based on greed and political expedi...more
Carrie Anne
This was a good book, nothing phenomenal, but a diverting read and a look at the intrigues of politics in a pre-Trojan war military camp.
Michael
This book is definitely different from the traditional telling of Greek myths. There are very subtle messages underlying the entire text and the way that the author manages to create so many parallels is astounding. Why it is not ranked higher is because it never hooked me. I was waiting to be enveloped into this Greek world but the usage of the modern vernacular breaks whatever hold the book had on me. Even until the very end (which was a very satisfying ending especially compared to my last re...more
Janet
I wasn't too excited about this book initially; retelling of Greek epics don't turn me on that much. But I've loved Barry Unsworth's other novels so much I overcame my initial resistance. I've given it five stars: obviously, I was transformed. So many things about this book thrilled me, from witnessing the thought processes of a soothsayer, to sly jabs at the modern-day relationship of politics and media, to painful questions about the preference of the masses for entertainment over truth. All t...more
Janet
This is a retelling – the real story? the unofficial story? the back story? --of the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis, for it is only by sacrificing innocent blood that the Greeks can break the malevolent spell that keeps the winds blowing in the wrong direction, penning the ships in the harbor, holding them back from conquering Troy. At least, that’s the official story… Unsworth casts Odysseus as a master manipulator, Agamemnon as a megalomaniac and Homer – the blind Singer – as an artist willin...more
Cara
I liked this book, though I wanted to like it more. It was too slow and less dramatic than it should/could have been, given its origins in a Greek Tragedy, for goodness sakes. I got some of the fission of the author's commentary on modern politics, but mostly I was in it for the timeless story of expediency and groupthink and how individuals get caught in traps of their own making, if manipulated well. I had always admired the character Odysseus, so this was a new view of him - very unsavory.
Jerry
Excellent extension of "The Illiad". Although only briefly alluded to by Homer in the original work, the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia is used by Unsworth as the enabling event for the invasion of Troy. Whether or not the sacrifice really took place is not the story. The interactions and differences among the various heroes and villains vying for leadership and/or glory is the real story, and the extremely well done character development brings this very readable novel to life.
Elizabeth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Yvonne
I was captivated by this book. The characters of Achilles, Agammenon, Odyseuss, Hector etc. are brought to life. The politics, scheming, and twisting of events to sooth the army is amazing and of course totally reflective of today. Powerful writing, funny, alive and provides great insight into the workings of the Greek army waiting to go and attack Troy.

I laughed out loud a few times reading this, and was totally immersed in the story. A gem.
Razi
At times very brilliant, at times slow and boring, this book reminded me of Peter Shaffer's plays. The complete and utterly senseless destruction of innocence, one of the favourite human hobbies and one of the most touching themes in literature. Indeed human intrigue, ambition, ingenuity and stupidity know no bounds. In the end, when the innocent is killed, everybody plays a role in this crime.
Brandi
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It was beautifully written, and the idea of revising the telling of history is particularly close to my heart, but I felt like the pace of this book was a bit slow. Which was probably intentional - you felt like you were "waiting" right along with the Greek troops. It was intellectually engaging, I just didn't particularly enjoy it.
Adam
This is a wonderful, poetic journey into Mycenean Greece during the days before the ships launch for Troy. The main character is Iphegenia, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, who is to be sacrificed to the goddess Artemis in return for favourable winds. A beautifully sad version of the tale that is often overlooked. I will read it again myself - and I often don't re-read books.
Chantel Acevedo
Good Lord, I love Barry Unsworth. This is a retelling of the Iphigenia story and the Greek kings and warriors who shaped her fate. Wonderful and surprising right to the end, making the reader question the story we thought we knew.
Ehren Gresehover
Expands on the sacrifice of Iphigemeneia, and treats it like a political pot-boiler. Gives a sort of creation myth for propaganda and media relations. Perhaps a bit facile, but I was really intrigued, and I liked the clean prose.
Maia
I had to read this for school. It's the same story of Iphigeneia told in more modern language. I was entertained while reading it. If I absolutely have to study this particular Greek play, then this is the one to read.
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Barry Unsworth was born in 1930 in a mining village in Durham, and he attended Stockton-on-Tees Grammar School and Manchester University, B.A., 1951.

From 1951-53, in the British Army, Royal Corps of Signals, he served and became second lieutenant.

A teacher and a novelist, Unsworth worked as a lecturer in English at Norwood Technical College, London, at University of Athens for the British Council...more
More about Barry Unsworth...
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