REVIEW: The Priestess and the Slave (audio book) by Jenny Blackford, read by Holly Jackson, on Audiophile

61lBXEBXM6L._SL175_‘The priestess and the slave’ is a compelling and dramatic tale of a tumultuous period in ancient Greek history told from the perspective of two very different women: Harmonia, a household slave, and Thrasullas, a priestess of Delphic Apollo. Author, Jenny Blackford’s eye for detail in characterisation, historical setting and political intrigue brings the characters and era to vivid life.

The story is set in the fifth century BC though Thrasulla’s story precedes Harmonia’s by several decades. Despite this separation in time there is a strong sense of continuity between the two.

Thrasulla, is an older woman whose life has encompassed the roles of daughter, wife, mother and later, pythia. Her narrative concerns the machinations of the mad Spartan King Klyomenes, a man with the ‘eyes of a ravening wolf’, and the duplicity of the senior priestess, Perialla, as they attempt to manipulate the role of the oracle to further Klyomenes’ quest for power.

The story is told through the observations of Thrasulla, and her conversations with a fellow priestess.

Harmonia’s story unfolds during the Great Plague of Athens which devastated the city from 430 BC in the wake of the Peloponnesian War. According to Thucydides, an historian of the period, up to a quarter of the Athenian army and a similar fraction of the civilian population perished. Harmonia’s description of nursing the family whom she belongs to and her own twin sister through the ravages of the plague is harrowing and moving.

Blackford’s eye for detail in characterisation, setting and political intrigue make the story a compelling one. Her decision to have both women past their child-rearing years, with a wealth of life experience to draw on an, and understanding of the relationships which are chosen and which are forced on characters, adds depth and credibility to the tale. Concentrating on the experiences of those marginalised in traditional accounts of the time also gives the tale freshness and energy. The characters of Thrasulla and Harmonia are portrayed as warm, intelligent and engaging. Blackford does not romanticise the era nor the institution of slavery, but through Harmonia, we get a nuanced glimpse into the politics of dependence and coercion of slave-owning society.

The womens’ contrasting narratives, differing in perspective in time and social position, give a sense of the period and changes taking place in ancient Greece. The similarities and differences in the two characters are fascinating and enhance the listeners understanding of womens’ roles and contribution to ancient society.

The audio book (on Audiophile), read by Hollie Jackson, is competent, clear and energetic though sometimes missing some subtlety in delivery which might have done more justice to characters who lived through such trying times.

Recommended for readers who enjoy a vivid account of a fascinating historical period, students and lovers of a well told tale.



About tjwhi1

born 1960 male in a relationship teacher/student
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