I love retellings. Of myths, of fairytales, of classics novels. Any retellings of any kind. I am fascinated by them, I enjoy wondering and discovering how an author will re-invent an old, often well known, tale. I am endlessly surprised and amazed at the seemingly endless ways a story can be approached and retold without ever getting boring.
This is why Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner, has been sitting in my to-read list for nearly two years, until, finally, I got my hands on it last week. In her debut novel, Spinner tackles a Greek myth. And let me tell you, I love Greek mythology, from Homer to Xena: Warrior Princess, I rarely get tired of it. And I am even more excited if the retelling tells the story of a little known myth, or mythical figure, and I become intrigued and fascinated if said figure is a girl or a women, as their voices are so often forgotten, stifled or ignored. More often than not, in fact, they do not have a voice, or I should say, are not given one.
In Quiver, Spinner gives a voice to Arcadian princess Atalanta, the swiftest human in Greece, and one of its best hunters too. Abandoned by her father at birth, because she was not a boy, the myth says that Artemis, chaste Goddess of the Moon and the hunt, sent a bear to rescue baby Atalanta. The girl then, while growing up learning to hunt, and shoot and run, dedicated herself to the Goddess, promising to stay chaste always. It is then in her girlhood, that her father recalls her to him and intends to marry her off so she can produce an heir. In her desperation to stay true to the Goddess, Atalanta makes a deal with her father saying that she would only marry the man who can outrun her in a race. All who fail must die.
Spinner stays true to the myth, not diverging from the events or settings that form Atalanta’s plight and fate, and the book might suffer a bit from it. In the end it’s not so much a retelling as an account of the myth from its main protagonist’s point of view. Quiver is more interested in looking at the reasons behind the events. What were the thoughts and motivations behind such seemingly cruel acts? Why did Atalanta do what she did? There are no innovations or surprises beyond the new voice in which it is told, especially if one knows how the myth goes.
Quiver is a small and quick read, easy to go through in a couple of hours or so, and while most people might not get attached to Atalanta as a character, I didn’t think the point was to make her likeable. It was to make her heard. I kept wanting things to go differently, I kept hoping she would do things differently, but all I could do was watch the events unfold to their inevitable conclusion.
I am still glad I read it. Glad it was written. Glad a voice was given to an almost unknown heroine, even if it’s not the voice I would I’ve liked to hear. Now if only there were more books doing the same things. I would read stories upon stories about such women as Ariadne, Medea, Andromache and countless others who are lost among the Achilles, Jason, Theseus and Hercules of history.