Random House, 2007 (2007)
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Reviewed by Hilary Williamson
've long enjoyed Esther Friesner's kickbutt - and often hilarious - fantasy heroines in stories like
Chicks in Chainmail
. This YA venture,
, has a more serious tone, but an equally strong young heroine in Princess Helen of Sparta. Here, we learn of her childhood and coming of age, long before she was embroiled in the Trojan War.
he story begins with the King of Sparta's dedication of a royal shrine to Aphrodite, and her nurse Ione's shocked reaction to pretty four-year-old Helen's comment that her Mama, Queen Leda, is more beautiful than the goddess. She continues this habit of questioning all around her as she grows up, and is often in conflict with her more traditional, younger twin Clytemnestra. She also, through stubborn, wily determination and an innate toughness, persuades her brothers' teacher Glaucus to include her in their warrior's training. After all, she will one day be Queen of Sparta and is determined to have the power to be '
free to make choices that mattered
', and to be listened to.
hen Clytemnestra is sent to marry a prince of Mykenae, and Helen and her brothers, Polydeuces and Castor, accompany their sister to her wedding. Helen manages to avoid a snare set by the Mykenae ruler, and accompanies her brothers to her mother's native land of Calydon, where their uncle has called for heroes to destroy a monstrous boar ravaging the countryside. There they meet their frail cousin Meleager. Helen admires and learns from the huntress Atalanta, and frees a slave boy named Milo, who worships her. Though the boar is destroyed, tragedy strikes the kingdom. The siblings and Milo continue on to Delphi, where Helen clashes with Theseus of Athens, befriends the Pythia and refuses to be tamely sent home when her brothers join Jason's legendary quest for the Golden Fleece.
is a delightful and exciting beginning to Helen's story, telling of a strong-willed young woman's efforts to balance duty and freedom, and to make her own choices in life, rather than those dictated by tradition, her position in society, and the gods. At the back of the book is the author's note,
Something About Helen
, in which she tells us, '
I like to think that the part of Helen's story I've told is about not fearing freedom.
' I highly recommend this first book and look forward to the sequel,
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