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Stealing Athena Paperback – April 28, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lord Elgin may be famous for bringing the Parthenon's sculptural masterpieces to England during the Napoleonic wars, but for Essex (Leonardo's Swans), it's Lady Elgin who pays for it, in fortune and in reputation. More about money than sex, and more about art than either, Essex's latest alternates the story of Scottish heiress Mary Hamilton Nisbet Bruce, countess of Elgin, with that of Aspasia, courtesan lover of the great Pericles and the inspiration for the Parthenon's Athena. Essex begins with 21-year-old Mary, newly wed and pregnant, en route to Constantinople with her diplomat husband. She soon discovers his obsession with dismantling the Ottoman-controlled Parthenon and his plan to reconstruct it in his Greek revival home. Over years, Mary endures his neglect and gives him five children before turning to fellow Scot Robert Ferguson, a powerful Englishman who stands by her during a racy divorce trial. That trial, in which English society spurns Mary, is mirrored by Aspasia's run-in with an Athenian court for sexual impropriety. Both of their stories are overshadowed by the marbles themselves; their creation, recovery, transport and restoration provide the most vivid passages of the novel. Essex shines light on the women who inspired and protected some of the greatest art ever created, and the men who exploited them. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

With the history of the Elgin Marbles as a framework, Essex moves between ancient Greece and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe to depict the lives of two women—both scandalous in their times—who were key to the story. Aspasia, courtesan and advisor to Athenian statesman Pericles, saw the creation of the marble masterpieces at the Parthenon (and served as model for its statue of Athena, an admittedly fictional device). Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, supported her husband, then British ambassador to Turkey, in his obsession to save this art from ruin at the hands of the Turkish occupiers of Greece and send the marbles to Britain before Napoléon could claim them for France, and she brought her considerable charm and personal wealth to this end. Essex, author of two Cleopatra novels and Leonardo’s Swans (2006), brings a feminist eye to her work, as she deals with female sexuality and shows Aspasia without a voice to defend herself and Mary with no legal rights. This is vibrant, well-researched historical fiction from an author whose goal is “to reframe history from the female point of view.” --Michele Leber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767926188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767926188
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #621,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Essex is the author of five novels of historical fiction. The latest, DRACULA IN LOVE, retells Bram Stoker's tale from the female perspective. STEALING ATHENA chronicles the fantastic journey of the controversial Elgin Marbles. The national and international bestseller LEONARDO'S SWANS, for which she won Italy's prestigious 2007 Premio Roma for foreign fiction, is the story of the rivalry between Leonardo's muses. Essex also wrote two acclaimed biographical novels, KLEOPATRA and PHARAOH, about the infamous queen of Egypt.

She is also an award winning journalist and a screenwriter, and wrote BETTIE PAGE: LIFE OF A PINUP LEGEND, the only authorized biography of the late pin-up icon.

Presently dividing her time between London and Los Angeles, Karen invites friends and readers to follow along as she chronicles her adventures, joys, and sorrows in putting together a complex work of historical fiction: Also, please follow her on Twitter:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Lilly Flora VINE VOICE on June 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Though I'd heard of Karen Essex, before "Stealing Athena" I had never read one of her novels. I was inspired to read this one because of the many mentions of the Elgin marbles in Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mystery series and have always been interested in the controversy surrounding the huge amount of many (other countries') national treasures that reside in the British museum and so picked up this novel. All I can say is I enjoyed this so much that I am supremely happy to have found the first three Essex novels and added them on my too read stack.

"Stealing Athena" is a divided novel telling the story of two young, smart and custom defying women who where heavily involved in the history of the Parthenon and the amazing sculptures which adorned it. Mary Elgin, the wife of Lord Elgin who harvested the marbles and brought them back to England and Aspasia, consort of Perikles who was responsible for funding and getting permission for the building of the Parthenon in the 5th century BC. But these women have more in common than the great structure-both are attached to men who sought an immortal glory-Perikles through the building of the Parthenon and Lord Elgin in the dismantling and "preservation" of it. And both find themselves struggling between the conventions of the time and their own personal happiness.

We start with Mary, Lady Elgin, who is the focus of the book in third person. A newly married young woman on her way to Constantinople where her husband is to be the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Mary believes her marriage to be a love match.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Ladyslott VINE VOICE on March 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Stealing Athena tells the story of two women, Aspasia, courtesan to Pericles, the famous politician who spent his lifetime seeing that beautiful monuments to the Gods were built in Greece; and Mary Elgin whose husband Robert Elgin would spend many years of his life trying to bring all of Greece's art to England. Through these women's eyes we learn of all that went into building the Parthenon, a temple to Athena and all that went into the deconstruction of the Parthenon 2000 years later, when Lord Elgin removed many of the marble friezes and had them sent to England, where they are today, known as The Elgin Marbles.

I should have loved this book, as I am a huge fan of historical fiction, particularly those focusing on ancient Rome and Greece, and those set in Victorian England. I was however disappointed in this book. The two stories did not seem to mesh well together and none of the characters came alive for me. The writing was often so descriptive, with so many minor details, the story would lose momentum. I never really cared for anyone in the book and struggled to finish reading it. At over 450 pages, what this book needed was a good editor to tighten up the story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Louise A. Marino on July 14, 2009
Format: Paperback
I was eager to read about a topic of which I had no previous knowledge, but this story starts and continues well into the middle of the book as a typical historical romance. The author is obviously painting her subject in the best light possible, just as the literature of the day painted her as evil.

I ended up skipping the chapters that were Aspasia's (enjoyable, but they got in the way), and read them after finishing Mary's story, which finally grew compelling in the latter half of the book. In spite of the endless description of the art and and the troubles it brings, this story finally got me as the arc of a marriage and how it dies.

Worth reading, but it was a chore through the first half.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Debbie on March 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book started out well enough. In the first few chapters I liked Mary and was intrigued by Elgin. By the time I was half way through with the book, however, I was not only bored to tears but irritated as well.

The boring part: this is based on the true story of the removal of several Greek sculptures (the Elgin Marbles) from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Interesting...right? Should be....but the author's reliance on huge chunks of clunky dialogue to convey the history of the sculptures makes it boring in the extreme. Ms. Essex obviously did her homework: every detail about the sculptures creation in ancient Athens, their eventual removal to England, and the personal lives of Elgin, Mary, Perikles and Aspasia, is somehow squeezed into the overburdened plot, usually through unrealistic wordy dialogue.

The irritating part: With very few exceptions every man who lays eyes on Mary falls instantly in love or lust with her: Capitan Pasha, the Sultan, Sebastiani, Ferguson. Because they all played a part in the history of the Elgin Marbles, they all parade into the plot, they fall in love with or lust after Mary, and then, with the exception of Ferguson, they all parade out never to be heard from again. Since the author spent so much time on these characters I kept expecting and hoping they would reappear (they were also much more interesting than the main characters). It was contrived in the extreme.

Not a good example of historical fiction. Should have saved my money and googled the Elgin Marbles instead.
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