Lavinia is a character only named once in Vergil’s Aenid, a young girl ripe for marriage, daughter of Latinus who becomes the wife of Aeneas. In this fantasy novel, LeGuin expands her story, gives her a voice, and bittersweet narrative that spans her entire life, and feels utterly real. Interestingly, Lavinia has knowledge of her own existence within the story, as she meets the poet Vergil in a dream oracle, which was a surprisingly effective plot device.
It’s obvious that LeGuin has a deep respect for Vergil and Roman myth, because although this is a feminist piece of literature, it is not modern in any sense. Unlike other stories from the feminist perspective, this one does not feel like an attack how the male side got it wrong, instead, it breathes fresh life into a world so unlike our own. LeGuin’s masterful world building effortlessly brings normalcy to signs and portents, kings and slaves, animal sacrifices and elaborate rituals. Lavinia is a strong stubborn female protagonist who also feels a loyalty and responsibility to her house and her husband, her people and her gods.
I would highly recommend this book or fans of historical fantasy, fans of the female commentary on the nature of men, and especially for Roman history buffs, whom I could easily see appreciating this on a 5 star scale.
“My mother was mad, but I was not. My father was old, but I was young. Like Spartan Helen, I caused a war. She caused hers by letting men who wanted her take her. I caused mine because I wouldn’t be given, wouldn’t be taken, but chose my man and my fate.”