This review originally appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers and is reprinted here with permission.
Grieving after the violent death of her fiancé, theater director Alex Morris leaves London for Edinburgh to take a job at a last-resort school for troubled teens. Not much has previously engaged these kids, but Alex gradually connects with them by teaching the Theban plays, starting with Oedipus the King and the role of fate in life.
As the class reads more and delves into themes of revenge, Alex is unaware that one of her students may be taking the subject matter too seriously and wants to incorporate it into real life. She recognizes her student’s obsession too late when she witnesses a shocking incident. Could Alex be blamed for not preventing it, or worse, encouraging it with her lessons?
The Furies may be British author Natalie Haynes’s debut novel, but as she demonstrated in The Ancient Guide to Modern Life, she can write with an assured hand about the Greeks. Readers get a refresher course on the classics via the students, who have funny reactions to all the twisted tragedy, using flippancy to disguise their growing interest.
The story alternates between scenes of Alex in a lawyer’s office and flashbacks to reveal how and why she ended up there. Guessing what happened isn’t hard if the reader is already familiar with Greek mythology and the significance of this novel’s title (published as The Amber Fury in England); the narrative doesn’t surprise much in that aspect. But the characters are worth getting to know, all broken people trying to escape their own tragic lives. And, unlike traditional Greek tales, the ending offers a glimmer of hope.
Nerd verdict: Compelling, if a bit predictable, modern-day Greek tragedy
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