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The Songs Of The Kings

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  476 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
"Pure gold....One of the best books by this most versatile of writers."Penelope Lively

"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 des

Paperback, 256 pages
Published September 25th 2003 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published January 1st 2002)
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Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
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
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
Feb 20, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
The rest of the reviews are about a different book, so I'm not sure why they're appearing here.

This could have been a brilliant book, but Unsworth didn't know how to fit all the pieces together. Kennedy's story is more successful than Mitsos', because it was about how petty human weaknesses lead to tragedy and didn't rely on overblown drama. It felt more real. Mitsos as a character seemed unclear, like he wasn't fully fleshed out and didn't exist for any reason other than to serve the final scen
Jun 24, 2011 Elaine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
James 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
Mar 12, 2014 Jrobertus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Beatrice Gormley
The Songs of the Kings retells the part of the Iliad in which Agamemnon and his troops are waiting for the wind to change so they can sail across the Aegean Sea to Troy, supposedly to kill Paris and get Helen back, but actually to loot the prosperous city and get rich. If what it takes to please the gods and change the wind is sacrificing the king's daughter, well, that's what it takes. Unsworth has an entertaining take on each of the Greek "heroes," and he writes vividly and confidently about t ...more
Jul 12, 2017 Rasha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Derek Bridge
Jul 05, 2017 Derek Bridge rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a retelling of the legend of the sacrifice of Iphigeneia with some of the psychology of the characters sketched in. But there is a thread that connects it all: it's all about the stories we tell to convince ourselves and others of our motives. "Spin" at both a personal and public level are shown to be part of our innate psychology.
Marian Deegan
Aug 29, 2014 Marian Deegan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 22, 2017 Nora rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it!
Aug 05, 2007 Justine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
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
Perry Whitford
Barry Unsworth is a former winner of the Booker prize and a respected writer of historical fiction. When I discovered that this novel 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.

I was naturally predisposed to like it, as re-tellings of those myths can hardly fail.

Why did this one fail for me then?

Unsworth central stylistic conceit is to to portray the heroes as ordinary men, whic
Oct 29, 2010 James rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2009 Marvin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 01, 2013 K rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 17, 2010 Kyra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jun 10, 2008 Janet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 31, 2012 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 09, 2010 Jerry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 22, 2010 Elizabeth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 07, 2011 Yvonne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 09, 2012 Cara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 18, 2016 Peggy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An "ok" retelling of the myth of Agamemmnon's sacrifice of his daughter, Iphigienia, to appease the gods and be able to sail to Troy to begin the events of that hallowed tale. The focus shifted far too much and unexpectedly by the middle of the book, and the writing was a bit overblown at times, making for a muddled read.
May 19, 2015 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Barry Unsworth is such a gifted writer. He makes everything he touches come alive. This may not be for everyone, but as the blurb says it is an updated version of the story of Iphigenia at Aulis (a play by Euripides). It is very hard not to imagine Bush, Cheney & Rumsfeld in the starring roles of this fabulous myth of hubris and catastrophe in the Middle East.
Fred Baerkircher
Aug 30, 2016 Fred Baerkircher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Someone turned me on to this book during a conversation about the nature of myth and folklore, and I'm grateful she did. It gives a contextual backstory to Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter prior to the events in the Odyssey. The book portrays the sacrifice as politically motivated, driven by schemers, and given religious cover by those who relayed the story later.
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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 about Barry Unsworth...

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