Goddess of Yesterday: A Tale of Troy

( 54 )


Anaxandra is taken from her birth island at age 6 by King Nicander to be a companion to his crippled daughter, Princess Callisto. Six years later, her new island is sacked by pirates and she is the sole survivor. Alone with only her Medusa figurine, she reinvents herself as Princess Callisto when Menelaus, great king of Sparta, lands with his men. He takes her back to Sparta with him where Helen, his beautiful wife, does not believe that the red-headed child is Princess Callisto. Although fearful of the ...

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Anaxandra is taken from her birth island at age 6 by King Nicander to be a companion to his crippled daughter, Princess Callisto. Six years later, her new island is sacked by pirates and she is the sole survivor. Alone with only her Medusa figurine, she reinvents herself as Princess Callisto when Menelaus, great king of Sparta, lands with his men. He takes her back to Sparta with him where Helen, his beautiful wife, does not believe that the red-headed child is Princess Callisto. Although fearful of the half-mortal, half-goddess Helen, Anaxandra is able to stay out of harm’s way—until the Trojan princes Paris and Aeneas arrive. Paris and Helen’s fascination with each other soon turns to passion and plunges Sparta and Troy into war. Can Anaxandra find the courage to reinvent herself once again, appease the gods, and save herself?

In Caroline B. Cooney’s epic tale of one girl’s courage and will to survive, Anaxandra learns that home is where you make it and identity goes deeper than just your name.

Taken from her home on an Aegean island as a six-year-old girl, Anaxandra calls on the protection of her goddess while she poses as two different princesses over the next six years, before ending up as a servant in the company of Helen and Paris as they make their way to Troy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A compulsively readable story.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Teen readers will be mesmerized.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

Publishers Weekly
At the prelude to the Trojan War, the cherished daughter of the chief of a tiny island is taken hostage. Later she plays a small but crucial role in the first few days of the epic war and makes peace with her stolen identity. In a starred review, PW said, "Cooney's trademark staccato narrative style gives the proceedings a breathless urgency." Ages 12-up. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Cooney sets this story in the years just before the Trojan War. Six-year-old Anaxandra leaves her Aegean Sea home, taken by King Nicander to be a companion to his crippled daughter, Callisto. Six years later, pirates invade the island of Siphnos and kill everyone except Anaxandra, who was not in the palace. Convinced to do so by her goddess Medusa, she claims to be Callisto when Menelaus of Sparta happens upon Siphnos and rescues her. His wife Helen hates her, convinced that she is an imposter. When Paris comes to visit, Paris and Helen fall in love. They run off to Troy and take Anaxandra, thinking that she is Hermione, Helen's daughter. Convinced that Helen's and Paris's passions will cause a war and equally certain that her own actions will call the gods' anger upon her, Anaxandra searches for the true path to safety and to her own self. Anaxandra is realistically portrayed and interacts with characters known from the Illiad. Although not as richly textured as Adele Geras's Troy (Harcourt, 2001/VOYA June 2001), this book will appeal to younger teen readers. One does not need to know the story of the Trojan War to enjoy this book, but Cooney's afterword encourages more reading and gives brief background information. The great cover should give savvy readers the clue to the goddess of yesterday before they open the book. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P J S (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2002, Delacorte, 192p,
— Kat Kan
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, July 2002: This is the most ambitious novel I have read by Cooney, known for her ever-popular works like the series that starts with The Face on the Milk Carton. In this, she mines the Trojan War characters and events, concentrating on Helen and Paris, as seen by a young girl, Anaxandra. Other major characters are those from the legend: Andromache and Hector, Menelaus, Cassandra; and the minor ones: King Priam, Agamemnon, and numerous others. One of the few made-up-by-Cooney characters is Anaxandra, and she serves as a dramatic narrator of events with an exciting life of her own. She meets the principal characters of the Trojan War when she is rescued by Menelaus and taken into his household. There she sees his wife, the beautiful Helen, as Helen and the visitor Paris fall in love and elope, taking Menelaus's treasure and his young son with them in an act of treachery. Anaxandra devotes her life to keeping the young prince, a two-year-old, alive. She accompanies the lovers to Troy and meets Paris's relatives, who include Hector and his fiancee Andromache, and their sister Cassandra, thought to be crazy. Through it all, she doesn't trust Helen to protect her own son; she certainly doesn't trust Paris, who actively tries to kill the little boy. Hector introduces her to horses; she loves Andromache and Cassandra; and although her loyalties first go to Menelaus and his little son, she also feels honor-bound to do nothing to betray Troy. It's an untenable position. Many teenagers are familiar with the setting and characters from reading The Iliad or The Odyssey for school assignments. This YA novel will make the ancient Greekworld more accessible to YA readers, even the tragic relationships that have been so familiar to so many through the millennia since Homer and the Greek dramatists put the oral tales into literary form. Cooney has done her research well for this purpose and even the title, altered to fit Anaxandra's needs, is taken from The Odyssey, spoken by Telemachus, who prays, "O God of yesterday, listen and be near me." An excellent, lengthy afterword helps readers place the characters and events in this novel into the context of Greek history and legend. Cooney's ability to create a character that will win over modern YA readers succeeds again with Anaxandra. (An ALA Notable Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*-Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2002, Random House, Dell Laurel-Leaf, 263p. maps., Ages 12 to 18.
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Anaxandra is six years old when she is taken as tribute by King Nicander. He is kindly toward her and takes her in to live with his own daughter, Callisto. Anaxandra leaves her former life behind, taking with her little more than her treasured statue of her patron goddess, Medusa. Then tragedy strikes-a band of pirates attacks her new home, and Anaxandra, hiding, is the only survivor. King Menelaus happens by soon after, and takes her to his island, thinking she is the Princess Callisto. His wife, Helen, does not believe this, and tries to prove it, but Anaxandra (now Callisto) becomes friends with Helen's children. When Paris arrives and takes off with Helen, "Callisto" protects her new friend by pretending to be Hermione, Helen's daughter, and is taken to Troy along with Helen's youngest son, Pleisthenes. Of course the ruse is later discovered, but not until they reach Troy, where Callisto determines to save Pleisthenes from certain death at the hands of Paris. Cooney has taken the basic facts of a well-known Greek myth and turned them into a grand adventure with a heroic girl at the center, creating a fictional situation and characters inside the known story. Lesser-known elements fill in her tale; the "Goddess of Yesterday" helps Anaxandra through many tough times, and Medusa in this form is the goddess of female wisdom. The characters, though many and varied, are complete and believable. A fine-tuned adventure that may leave middle-schoolers asking to read Homer.-Angela J. Reynolds, Washington County Cooperative Library Services, Hillsboro, OR Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Anaxandra's adventures begin as a small child, when she is taken hostage from her father, the king of a tiny unnamed island in the Aegean Sea. She becomes the companion of the crippled princess Callisto of Siphnos. When that island is sacked, Anaxandra alone is left alive and she pretends to be Callisto in the eyes of Menelaus, who takes her back to Sparta. It is there that the girl, now 12, accomplished with a slingshot, and resourceful in many ways, meets Menelaus's queen, Helen. In Cooney's telling, Helen is an exquisite monster: so beautiful that people die for her; but cold, careless, and utterly self-involved. When the besotted Trojan prince Paris takes Helen off to Troy, Anaxandra assumes another identity, to protect her own life and that of Helen's youngest child. The gods and goddesses are very real to Anaxandra, whose prayers and beseeching are answered only occasionally. The full horrors of war and the brutality of even the noblest of lives in ancient Greece (although the land now known as Greece was many independent principalities then) are related in Anaxandra's perceptive voice, in a heightened language that seems natural for her. Characters from the Iliad, the Odyssey, and much of Greek tragedy make appearances in Anaxandra's tale, one that is as vivid as her red-gold hair. Teen readers will be mesmerized. (afterword) (Fiction. 12+)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385738651
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 240,081
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Caroline B. Cooney is the author of The Face on the Milk Carton (an IRA–CBC Children’s Choice) and its companions Whatever Happened to Janie? (an ALA Best Book for Young Adults), The Voice on the Radio (an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists), and What Janie Found. Her other novels include The Ransom of Mercy Carter, What Child Is This?, Burning Up, and Drivers Ed.

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Read an Excerpt


I was six years old when King Nicander came to the island of my birth, demanding tribute and a hostage.

I did not know what a hostage was, nor tribute.

The king was taller than Father. His oiled beard jutted from his chin like a spear point. His arms were hard and tanned, his eyes twinkling. I liked him right away. "So you are Alexandra," said Nicander.

I corrected a king. "Not Alexandra. Anaxandra."

His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. "Anaxandra, you are coming for a sail with me. You will be companion to my daughter, Callisto."

A sail? I was so excited I hardly bothered to kiss my parents goodbye. My brothers got to go to sea and have adventure, but I always had to stay home with Mother. And I had never met a princess. Callisto means "the fairest," just the right name for a princess, the way Anaxandra was just the right name for me. Mother packed some clothes and my fleeces and put my doll in a box, which I hugged to my chest. I had never owned a box, and Mother kept jewelry in this one. It was heavy, which meant she had left some jewels in it. I would have a guest-gift for the princess.

An officer sat me on his shoulders and off we went. I never looked back at my brothers, standing in a row, silent and envious, and I never waved to my parents.

Our village was perched a thousand feet above the sea. The path to the harbor tilted steeply. I clung to the officer's neck so I wouldn't fall off. "What's your name?" I asked.

He peeled my fingers from his throat so he could breathe. "Lykos."

This means "wolf," which made me think of my puppy. I had named her Seaweed, because when she romped in the water, she came out hung with green fronds. I almost told Lykos we had to go back and get Seaweed, but I remembered that I would be home by bedtime to tell Seaweed all about it.

The sailor carrying my clothes and fleece said to Lykos, "Why didn't the king take sons for hostages? A little girl isn't going to make Chrysaor double his tribute."

Chrysaor was my father's name; it had the word for gold in it. My mother's name was Iris, which means "rainbow."

The king caught up to us. He tugged on my long curls and told me I had hair as red as King Menelaus. I had never heard of King Menelaus.

"A girl as hostage?" said Lykos to the king.

"Chrysaor needs his sons to pirate with him," said the king of Siphnos, "but his daughter he loves. He'll obey me for her sake."

The donkey path was slippery with pebbles and sand. The men struggled for balance and swore at my father for not chiseling steps into the stone.

Steps would make it too easy for pirates. Father knew because he was one. He loved to tell about the towns he had sacked and burned. We had many slave women he had brought back. The men he couldn't keep, because they knew how to use weapons and were too dangerous.

All around the island the sea sparkled. We wound down the bare bones of cliffs to the harbor, where there were so many ships, I could not assign a finger to all of them.

I used up ten fingers counting ships, tucked my elbow into my side to keep the first ten safe, used my fingers over again, and had to tuck in my other elbow. All together there were ten ships, ten ships, and eight more ships, long and slim with black hulls and red sails. Each sail was stitched with a white octopus, its long legs tied in knots.

"You have enough ships to take Troy, don't you?" I said to the king. My father sailed past Troy every year. He admired Troy but hated her more.

"Troy," repeated Nicander, and he and his men looked east, where Troy lies, far far away.

Troy is built on a citadel above a strange rough river that runs uphill into a second sea. Beyond the second sea are endless supplies of slaves and grain, gold and amber. The river is the Hellespont and only with a very strong wind can a ship go up it. If there is no wind, a ship waits in the harbor of Troy. On the return voyage, when the ship's hold is full, Troy takes her share. She is the richest city on earth.

"No," said Nicander. "I could not take Troy."

We waded out to the ships. Seaweed and I played here. The stones were flat and good for skipping. "Is Callisto on the ship," I asked the king, "or is she at your house?"

"Callisto is at my house," said the king, "although my house is called a palace. She isn't very well, Anaxandra. She can't run and jump the way you can. You will sit quietly with her and spin."

What kind of adventure would that be?

A man as hairy as a goat leaned over the edge of the king's ship to lift me on board. He laughed at the idea of a girl hostage when there were boys to take, and he tossed me high into the air. My father threw me around all the time and I loved it. But when the goat-haired man caught me, I saw he had expected me to be afraid. "I am never afraid," I said severely. "I can do anything. I can swim underwater and my brothers can't do that. I can even swim into Father's caves."

The king was still waist-deep in the water, his men cupping hands to give him a leg up. "Can you now?" said the king. "And what caves are those, Anaxandra?"

"Where Father keeps the real treasure," I said.

It took Nicander's men all afternoon to get my father's treasure out of the caves and loaded into the ships. How they laughed, congratulating Nicander on his wisdom—taking a silly girl as hostage instead of an intelligent boy: a girl who had just sold out her own father.

The king's ship was hollow inside, the deck planks removed to reveal the hold. In went piles of spears and bee-waisted shields, ingots of bronze and a silver sword pommel, a gold mask and ivory combs.

I sat on a coil of rope. It was damp and salty, the color and texture of an old woman's hair. Waves lapped against the ship like dogs drinking from a puddle. What would Father say to me when I got back tonight?

At last, Lykos bellowed, "Deck the ships!" The slamming of timber was heard on all sides as the cargo was covered by the deck beams. The masts were lifted and placed in their supports and the anchor stones raised.

Nicander flung wine into the sea. "Earth Shaker!" he shouted to the god. "Give us a safe return home!"

The wooden ships groaned and creaked. Bright banners slapped in the wind. There was no need for rowing with the wind so fine and the men relaxed on their benches.

I had not known that when you sailed away from your island, it got smaller. I had not known it would vanish. I kept my eyes fastened to the place where my island had been.

The sun was going down. The sea turned molten gold and the sky purple.

"It's bedtime," I said to the king. "I can't play with Callisto after all. We have to sail back home now."

"You're not going home, Anaxandra," said the king. "Not tonight or any night. Siphnos will be your home."

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Reading Group Guide

1. “Anaxandra was just the right name for me, ” Anaxandra declares. (p. 1) She often examines the names of people and places and their meanings. Think about the importance of names in this novel. How does Pleis’ broken pronunciation “Calli Sto” symbolize Anaxandra’s story? Why is it important that Anaxandra’s birth island had no name?

2. Consider the merchant’s glass jar in Gythion. “I could see through it, ” Anaxandra thinks in amazement. “The merchant dropped a shiny red bead into the jar and I could still see the bead. . . . It contained, but did not hide.” (p. 56) How does this observation parallel Anaxandra’s life? The merchant says that glass “[breaks] more easily than hearts.” (p. 57) What is symbolic about the moment the glass breaks? (p. 80)

3. Anaxandra says “I will die as Anaxandra” when she fears Helen’s wrath on the journey to Troy. (p. 132) Similarly, when she befriends the princess Andromache, she becomes “dizzy with the desire to tell her the truth.” (p. 177) Why, at these particular moments, does Anaxandra’s true identity become so important to her?

4. While telling Euneus stories of her past, Anaxandra blends truths in order to tell him about the loss of the puppy she had on her birth island: “In this version, I had lost Seaweed at Siphnos.” (p. 196) How does this help Anaxandra preserve pieces of truth?

5. Anaxandra is not the only character whose identity is vulnerable. Discuss the enslaved
former queen Aethra, especially in the context of this moment: “The squire bowed, as if Aethra was stilla queen. And she was.” (p. 158) Also, discuss the implications of Helen’s rejection of old loyalties to Menelaus and Sparta when she fiercely proclaims herself “Helen of Troy.” (p. 125) How do Helen’s and Aethra’s changes attest to the resilience of human identity?

6. Helen commands attention; her power is irrefutable. Just by smiling, she causes everyone to yearn “to do or say something to make that smile return.” (p. 100) Think about the many other instances that prove her vast power, which seems to derive from her beauty, disposition, and half-god birthright. Compare this power to examples of male power in this novel.

7. Consider the significance of gender in the relationships and societies in this novel. Examine these quotes in your discussion:

“A girl as hostage?” (p. 2)
“Nicander . . . brought back the usual treasure: grain, women, lumber.” (p. 20)
“No man wants wealth more than sons.” (p. 19)
“Priam has many wives.” (p. 50)
“But to take a king’s son.” (p. 126)

8. Cassandra, a prisoner in her own land, can see past, present, and future. “And yet it was Cassandra the people feared.” (p. 209) Discuss why her omniscience and outspoken truths incite perhaps more fear than Helen’s treachery.

9. Throughout the novel, Troy is described as a mystifying and invincible city. Consider Anaxandra’s thought that Troy “did not cringe inside walls. Troy was the wall.” (p. 166) In what ways is Anaxandra like Troy?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 54 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 54 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing Mythological Novel

    An amazing novel for mythological lovers of all ages.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2007

    good book

    the book was great from start to the end. Anaxandra was the best thought the whole story great book. .

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2014

    5 stas!

    Suh a good book I couldn't put it down! Caroline B. Cooney is such a grear writer! Discovered it by pulling it out of a library shelf. Anybody who hasn't read it I recomend it for anyone! Good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2013

    Good read!

    I really liked this book. I was unsure about it, but I really liked the heroine Anaxandra.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2013

    Great Book

    I loved this book great story with actual history added in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2012

    Great prehistorical fiction

    Great book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2012


    How many pages is it?

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2012


    This book is fine but u really should read nobodys princess if u like mytholical books

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011


    It was a good book a little slow in the begning

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2011

    great book

    i read this book back when i was 12. its great story that puts a whole new twist on the stroy of helen of troy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2010

    I did not like the characters

    I didn't like this book at all. I thought it was going to be good, judging by the title and cover, but I hated that the author made Helen the bad guy. I love Greek mythology and I'm really interested in the Trojan War. Anyone who is the same should NOT read this book if you like Helen the best.
    In this book, Helen is shallow, vain and cruel to others. I all the other books I've read, Helen is so nice and sweet and Cooney's Helen feels just so unrealistic. I also didn't like that Menelaus and Agamemnon were nice. I think both were power hungry and Menelaus only loved Helen as a trophy wife as was Agamemnon with Clytemestra.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Sorry to all of you who loved it...

    Personally, I LOVE books that have to do with ancient mythology--it's just so fascinating!! I had to read this book for a "book group unit" at school, and frankly, I just didn't like it. Of course, I HAD to finish it, so I did read it cover to cover, but the story just wasn't my type. The characters were okay, and I was really intrigued by Helen and what made her the way she was--cold and shallow. Anaxandra's story WAS kind of repetitive, though. Over and over again, she has to pretend to be someone she's not, to save either her life or someone else's. From the way the book was written, I think the author was trying a little too much to make it sound old-fashioned.
    I do like the legend behind the story, though, which we had to research as a part of the unit, and I would definitely read up on it more. I'm not saying this book is terrible; just not my type, as some people completely loved it.
    One other book I would reccommend is "Song of the Sparrow", which is actually written like a song, and tells the story of a girl in the setting of Camelot mythology. It is an amazing book.

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  • Posted April 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Good book

    I had to read this book for summer work & I enjoyed it. The detailing was good and the story seemed very realistic. I also learned mored about the anicent world from the book. If you like historical fiction and ancient world, you would like. It's also good for a book report too.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2009


    I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves greek mythology. It is such a different take on the story of Troy that I couldn't bear to put it down. The author weaves the identities of the characters so well that you can love and hate them as you read. This is truly a great story. Kudos to the author.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2008

    'A Compulsively Readable Story.'- Publisher's Weekly, Starred

    This book is highly recommened by me to anyone who particulary enjoys superstition. This book is exciting and will knock the socks off any of its readers.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2007

    A book Fanatic!

    When I read this book I was very excited. I couldn't put the book down. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I recommend it if you like greek myths, pirates, love affairs, very evil villains and more. You won't regret reading it, I'm sure of it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2007

    Horrible writing!

    Goddess of Yesterday was an absolutely horrible book. I had to read it for school and it was awful. Trust me do not read this book it is horrible!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2006


    This book covers everything I love: mythology, pirates, ancient civilizations, drama, heartbreak, mesmerizing language. Definetly one of my favorites.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2005

    Great Greek Myth!

    Anaxandra is six years old when she is taken captive by the King of Siphnos, Nicander. She lives as a companion to the crippled Princess Callisto for six years until tragedy strikes again. Pirates invade Siphnos. The king and Callisto are both killed and Queen Petra is taken as a slave. Only Anaxandra is left alive. Then King Menelaus comes to see what happened to the island. For safety, Anaxandra tells him she is Princess Callisto and he takes her back to the mainland with him to be his 'daughter.' She meets the beautiful Queen Helen, but Helen doesn't believe she really is Callisto and hates her. She does everything possible to make Anaxandra's life miserable. Then, Paris comes from Troy, lures Menelaus out of the way, and takes Helen to Troy. Helen wants her two youngest children, Hermione and Pleis, to come with her to Troy. Anaxandra pretends to be Hermione to save her. To find out what happens next, you'll have to read the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2004

    Great Introduction to Greek Mythology

    This is an enjoyable introduction to the pantheon of Greek gods and heroes. The main character (a young teenage girl) is caught up in the events leading up to the Trojan war. There are a few graphic descriptions of disembowelling and other slow deaths, so it's not for the ultra-squeamish. It describes a world where the rules of war were harsh, and included mass murder or enslavement of innocent people. However, I read this book to my 10-year old daughters and they loved it.

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