The Songs of the Kings by Barry Unsworth

The Songs of the Kings

"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 allow the troops to set sail. And when Iphigeneia, Agamemnon's beloved daugh...

Details The Songs of the Kings

TitleThe Songs of the Kings
Release DateApr 17th, 2004
PublisherW. W. Norton Company
GenreHistorical, Historical Fiction, Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology, Cultural, Greece, Literary Fiction, Retellings, Politics, European Literature, British Literature

Reviews The Songs of the Kings

  • 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 bac...
  • 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 o...
  • 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.
  • Marquise
    Interesting retelling of the events leading to the Trojan War until right when the Achaean ships sail from Aulis after Iphigenia's sacrifice, from a perspective I'd not seen done before.
  • Vasilia
    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...
  • 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 storm...
  • 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 fr...
  • 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 an...
  • 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 ...
  • Melody
    4 stars in terms of ideas, but the author's stylistic choices weaken a pretty solid story.Recently, I finished Colm Tóibín's House of Names, a retelling of the Greek tragedy of the House of Atreus, which starts with (spoiler!) Agamemnon's decision to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia prior to sailing his army to Troy. In this book, Barry Unsworth interprets the events leading to that conclusion, a story apparently far less heroic than the bards ...
  • Jim
    The Songs of the Kings was one of the two choices to be read together for my book club; the other, Silence of the Girls. Together, they were said to form a women’s and men’s eye retelling of the Trojan Wars. I found great differences in the quality of the writing, and the emphasis, but in the end, the ‘glory’ of this war could perhaps be summed up in the final line from The Song of the Kings that spoke of how things were later considered:...
  • Ryan Houck
    With vivid imagery, Unsworth wraps the old tale with humor. Again and again I laughed reading The Songs of Kings. The book plays with Ancient Greek tales and contemporary politics and religion. He has jokes about Homer and Odysseus, but also obliquely mocks Judeo-Christian ideals and the logic of the machinations of war. Again and again, I felt like this book explains the illogical Trump and the masses that enable him. It also reminds me of Arthu...
  • Stephen Lewis
    I listened to this book to wash out the remains of Dan Simmons' Illium. It didn't do that, but made me rather sad thinking about the superstitions and other mumbo jumbo (as they seem to me anyway) of so much of life here in modern Asia. We can't say it was only in ancient times that people looked for signs and omens. Today we still have nonsense like I don't know if rhino horn or dried tiger's penis will make me more or less potent - so I might a...
  • 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 "hero...
  • Rasha
    I wasn't exactly blown away by this book.  It was certainly interesting in that it showed the event of Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter from multiple view points.  Bu there was something about it that bothered me, mostly the way Odysseus talked. Granted, there is no pretence that the prose conforms to a modernisation of how we believed they would speak, but some of the terminology was so glaringly modern (like refering to someone's CV) t...
  • Karren
    This is a slow moving novel about an English grifter who shows up in Athens wanting a job. He makes himself available to teach English but he isn't trained and he isn't ethical. In his own way, he is however charming. While Unsworth follows his main character Kennedy, he weaves in the story of a Greek man who was traumatically orphaned during WWII. The story of Mitsos adds an element of intrigue and danger. His story is what kept me reading to th...
  • Derek Bridge
    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.
  • Rachel Wang
    An interesting read, but very much a retelling of Homer influenced by contemporary culture. Although I think Unsworth predates the beginning of the era of "grizzled reinterpretations" of old stories (see: Batman), this felt very much as belonging to the same school. Herein lies antiheroes.
  • Philipp Leube
    A strong reminder of how tragedy can be turned into farce and that is that farce, which could be considered tragic in this day and age. At the same time funny and witty but also unsettling in the message it wants to convey.
  • Brenda Clift
    An interesting back story to the Trojan war. Sometimes the mix of ancient characters and modern jargon got a bit irritating. Overall good characterization and a cohesive way to bring many different stories into line.
  • Jeff Lacy
    Homer retoldThe Iliad and Oddessey retold in current English concerning the Greeks held in Aulis by the winds and the sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter, Iphemeneia. Unsworth does another good job at historical fiction.
  • Paul Scheller
    Not what I thoughtIntroduction to the war of Troy which turns into an afterthought. Touchstone for many myths and characters. Time well spent.
  • Jan Hallam
    Slow burn but powerful second half
  • John Newcomb
    Those pesky Greeks are out making human sacrifices to their gods again. It will all end in tears.
  • Kenneth
    Slightly longwinded, but not intolerably so, and with some really great characters.
  • 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...
  • 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 ...
  • 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...
  • 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 Ag...
  • 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...