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3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  382 ratings  ·  81 reviews
In Greek myth, Alcestis is known as the ideal wife; she loved her husband so much that she died and went to the underworld in his place. In this vividly-imagined debut, Katharine Beutner gives voice to the woman behind the ideal and reveals the part of the story that’s never been told: What happened to Alcestis in the three days she spent in the underworld?
Paperback, 304 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Soho Press (first published January 1st 2010)
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Review copy provided by the agent.

For years I've loved the historical novels of Mary Renault, and for almost as many years I've longed for versions of them that centered on women. The apparent effortlessness of the world-building in Renault's rich recreations of Classical Greece is matched only by the elegance of her prose and the fascinating obliquity of her characterization; she is one of English's great masters of textual negative space. In her boo...more
This book reminded me quite a bit of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Palace Of Illusions and that's good, because that book is what all myth retellings have to live up to in my mind.

Now, bear in mind that I'm not familiar with the original myth of Alcestis.

That being said, this book was gorgeous. The writing might seem overwrought to some readers, but I found it lyrical, visceral, and intense. Alcestis is very much a woman of her times and culture, not a feminist insert put there to challenge t...more
The ancient Greeks held up Alcestis as a model of wifely devotion. Her husband, Admetus, was spared from death on the condition that someone else die in his place. When Admetus’ relatives and friends refused, Alcestis volunteered herself and made the journey to the underworld, but was later rescued by Heracles. In her debut novel, a poignant literary fantasy, Katharine Beutner fleshes out the figure of Alcestis, and gives her a backstory that helps explain her willingness to sacrifice herself.

I'm torn on this one. It was spellbinding, but in a soft, dusty way -- Alcestis as a character is too obedient for most of her life to have any colour to her. The bit in the Underworld is still quite colourless, quite literally, except for Persephone. I was actually more interested in the relationship between Hades and Persephone than that between Persephone and Alcestis. I wanted to understand them, what made them tick, what made them volatile.

I understand that there's actually a degree of hist...more
So the book follows this myth very closely. I wasn’t totally familiar with the original myth so I had to go and read about it. The part that the author focuses on during the last part of the book is Alcestis’ time in the Underworld. Now, I was wholly enjoying everything about the book while I was reading it, but when it got to those three days spent in the Underworld, I felt a slight disconnect. But first….

I really liked the fact that the gods were part of the mortal world, and that they weren’t...more
Tara Chevrestt
This falls into the fantasy genre, I think. I normally read historical fiction, but my interest in Greek mythology caused me to pick this up. I have kept my personal tastes in mind while writing this review.

The first half of this novel is wonderful. Readers meet Alcestis, grand daughter of Poseidon, god of the sea. Alcestis's mother died birthing her and her father is a cruel man who really has nothing to do with his daughters. Therefore, Alcestis grows attached to her sisters, and one in parti...more
I just received an autographed copy of this from the author through Goodreads First Reads. Thank you Katharine!

I entered to win this book because I love reading about Greek mythology. But as much as I enjoy learning the stories of the gods and the mortals, usually the writing of Greek mythology is very dry, and often hard to follow. I enjoy learning, but often have to force myself to actually read it.

But then comes Katharine Beutner's Alcestis. Greek mythology written as a thoroughly enjoyable,...more
Liza Gilbert
The beginning of this Greek myth of 16 year-old Alcestis, who dies in order to save her husband, is enjoyably visceral. In some ways, I was reminded of HBO's Rome. Beunter did a nice job with the historical details, and I felt fairly sunk into the story early on. Descriptions of food, place, smells, and touch were placed throughout the text without going overboard.

I enjoyed the first half of the book, but then things started to unravel and the quality of the writing went downhill. Beutner's dep...more
Stephanie Dray
This is a different kind of book--one that's hard to categorize. It's certainly historical fiction. It's certainly historical fantasy. It's also allegorical, more literary than commercial, but a very poignant read. One of the delights of this novel is that the author takes the Greeks at their word. Olympian deities show up, just like in Homer, and they're terrifyingly alien and familiar at once. Forget to honor a goddess and she may throw snakes in your bed. You just never know. But instead of t...more
Alcestis is a wonderful first novel from Katharine Beutner, and the only reason I mention it as a first is just because it amazes me that someone can be this good right out of the starting gate.

Alcestis' husband, the mortal lover of Apollo has been granted the boon of one refusal to death providing someone steps forward to take his place. Death comes, no one steps forward. Sensing the shame that would befall her husband if no one died for him, Alcestis steps forward. Hermes takes her to the unde...more
Tori Hoeschler
Ancient Greek Myth Turned Acid Trip
I love me my Greek myths. Persephone’s abduction is explanation for seasons? Yes please. Athena punishes master weaver Arachne by turning her into a spyder who’s cursed to “weave” forever? Outstanding.
When I cam across Alcestis, an entire novel centered around a Greek myth, I thought, “yahtzee!” And to be fair, for the first half of the book, the author delivers: mortals co-existing with gods, gods manipulating mortals’ lives, etc. However, about halfway thro...more
Hoping that Beutner's imaginative story of Alcestis, the wife who loved her husband so well she chose to die in his stead, would match up with Jo Graham's re-telling of the Aeneid (Black Ships), Alcestis unfortunately disappoints. Beutner has the imagination to create the untold story of Alcestis' early life and journey to the underworld, but her prose is dry enough in spots that it reminds one of the crumb coat put on before the real frosting on wedding cakes - sweet, thin, and not really satis...more
I was a strange child who spent more time with Greek myths than actual people, so this book made me very happy. It's a clever, subversive reimagining of the Alcestis myth, elegantly written. Alcestis's relationship with Persephone is fascinating and intriguing, reminding me of Kushiel's Dart (and Jacqueline Carey actually blurbs the book). I look forward to more work from Ms. Beutner in the future.
This was a terrible book, from beginning to end. I normally love reading re-tellings of myths, but the unrealistic, two-dimensional characters ruined this book for me. The main character Alcestis, for example, has no enduring values or traits and does not develop at all throughout the work. Beautner may know her myths but she does not understand how to compose a work of fiction properly.
Skyler White
An elegant and cooly erotic re-telling of th Alcestis myth. It raised questions for me that I'm still turning over in my mind. It's the least anachronistic bit of historical fiction I've ever read in that the characters have almost no insight into their own emotional processes. Which,I had to keep reminding myself, is entirely accurate for people a thousand years away from Freud.
Perhaps I didn't read closely enough, but it took me a few chapters to realize that the gods Alcestis spoke of were actually real and not metaphorical. A lot of things described in the book were hard for me to imagine for some reason. Not a lot of action happens, but Alcestis thinks a lot about the things going on around her and has a strange obsession with her sister.

I didn't know the myth of Alcestis, so about 2/3s through the book, I thought Whoa, this can't be right. When I looked up the myt...more
I like fairy tale and mythology retellings, in general. I've read a lot of really creative and interesting ones. I've also read a lot that detracted from the original story in its reimagining. I was hoping Alcestis was one of the former, but, unfortunately, it fell into the latter category.

The story of Alcestis in myth is one of wifely devotion. She so loved her husband that, when his death came, she volunteered to take his place. Heracles (aka Hercules, Herakles, and various combinations thereo...more
Reading this book was like watching a contestant self destruct on Top Chef: there were a ton of ingredients in this thing but not a lot of execution.

I'm still wondering what it was I just got through - historical fiction? Mythical fantasy? Lesbian Smut? Coming of age woman power? Character deep dive? It would be easier to pick one of these if any of them were done well but alas, the style tended to be schizophrenic. The main character was completley flat and there were a few imaginative concept...more
This debut novel brilliantly conveys what it feels like to be bi (I imagine)--see what happens to Alcestis vis-a-vis the "2 worlds" of earth and afterlife.

I'm also mightily impressed with Beutner's imagining of what the earth was like one or two generations after the gods mated with humans. Oh, wait a minute. Supposedly, there were no such days. But while you are reading this book, you might well believe that there were. You will also know exactly what the afterlife is like, from the ancient Gre...more
When I was younger I went through a Greek myth phase. Persephone was the cause of it all. Out of all of the myths that I have heard of or read, hers is the one that remains to be my favourite. Any mention of Hades or the Underworld and I immediately think of Persephone. This book is about a woman who goes to Underworld and returns. It reminded me a lot of Persephone so I just had to take it out! Little did I know what was in store for me...

At first, Alcestis and her family seem like your "typica...more
This book was hit and miss for me and I had been dying to read it for so long that it was a little disappointing to me. I love reading Greek mythology – all of the interfering Gods and Goddesses, Heroes etc. I also have enjoyed reading novelized treatments of these myths as the world is fleshed out for us and we get to know more about the characters themselves.

Where this book was its strongest was with the depictions of Greek culture and mythology. We are treated to the requisite interfering God...more
The Alcestis we know through myth is the ideal wife, one who loved her husband so much that she died to save his life, and went to the Underworld in his place. This is about as much information as we have about her. She is written about in songs and poems and Euripides wrote of her great sacrifice in his play by the same name.

Who was this woman, Alcestis? What happened to her during the three days she spent in Hades’ realm? Euripides’ play bears her name, but it is a story told by Apollo and fea...more
.5 Stars (rounded up to 3)

I've mentioned this before, but I'm a sucker for any book that has to do with Greek mythology. I honestly want to read them all (if only there was enough time)! Alcestis is one myth that I'm not nearly as familiar with, and I actually don't think I've read the original but this one intrigued me regardless.

With an excellent, strong start I fell in love nearly immediately... but I was a tad disappointed with a lackluster finish.

1.'Fantastic representation of mythology:

This beautiful book retells the Greek myth of Alcestis, who voluntarily dies and goes to the underworld in her husband Admetus' place, and is rescued from Hades' realm three days later by Hercules. Beutner fleshes out Alcestis, giving her a backstory marked by death - that of her mother in birthing her and the later death of her beloved sister Hippothoe, from asthma. She also gives Alcestis and Admetus a more complicated relationship than the bare outlines of the myth suggest: while their marria...more
Talulah Mankiller
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Wow! Where do I start? This book was amazing! A tragic love story... just not between the two people the reader might think...

I learned about this book because one of my favorite authors, Stephanie Dray, was reading it. Since I like to get my hands on everything that's been written about Ancient Greece and Rome, I decided to buy it. At first I couldn't get past the first chapter; it was so sad (Duh! Euripides called them tragedies for a reason...). But then I got around to it and, after the seco...more
There are few historical fiction novels that tempt me reread my Greek Classics texts from college. Beutner’s unique take on the Greek myth of Alcestis swayed me towards my packed away college books to learn more about Alcestis—which isn’t much. For a figure known as the ideal wife, there is very little about this character. Consequently, Beutner’s retelling of the myth creatively fills in the gaps on a little known character in Greek mythology. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of daily life...more
So, I didn't think I was going to make it through this story at first. I thought the begining was a little boring. I didn't appreciate the author forcing obscure details of ancient Greek life down my throat- it felt a little like Beutner was showing off her knowledge instead of building a world.

I am not quite sure when this changed for me, but it definitely did. I really appreciated the balance that Beutner took in presenting this world from the point of view of a female character, as a daughte...more
Alex Telander
Alcestis is a princess from Greek mythology, popularized in Euripides’s tragedy of the same name. It is the story of a wife who sacrifices herself in the place of her husband. Alcestis was the daughter of Pelias, who proclaimed to all her suitors that the only man who could take her hand would be one who could yoke a lion and a boar to a chariot. King Admetus, who will stop at nothing to marry Alcestis, does just this with the help of the god Apollo. Fulfilling his promise, Pelias allows Alcesti...more
So, I am a sucker for retellings of classical myths from the perspective of the ladies. Some of them are really really good. Some of the are really, really, really bad. Alcestis falls closer to the good end of the spectrum. I'm not sure I find story as presented in this book entirely plausible (controlling, of course, for the presence of things like gods and the underworld and stuff). I feel like if I were more detached and less of a sucker, I might be able to give a more nuanced and persuasive...more
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I write fiction and creative nonfiction and teach writing and literature at the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. My novel ALCESTIS, a retelling of the Greek myth, is available from Soho Press.

Read an excerpt from ALCESTIS here, or watch me read from the book here.
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