King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
King of Ithaka
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King of Ithaka

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by Tracy Barrett

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Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago.

But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide


Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago.

But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Building on the events of Homer's Odyssey from the point of view of Telemachos, the 16-year-old son of the absent king Odysseus, Barrett (the Sherlock Files series) crafts a coming-of-age novel full of mythical creatures and questions about what it truly means to be a leader. Odysseus has been gone from the island kingdom of Ithaka for 16 years, since the Trojan War began, and Telemachos now must find him before his mother, Penelopeia, is forced to remarry. "I knew that Ithaka was falling into ruin and was vulnerable to attack, both from within and from without," he says. Telemachos sets sail to fulfill a cryptic prophecy ("Return to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not. On that day the king will return") with friends Brax, a centaur, and Polydora, his love interest, who accompany him through treacherous territory from Pylos to Sparta. With its focus on Telemachos's determination and growth, Barrett's tale should be an enjoyable and accessible primer for readers who've not yet read the original. Ages 12–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“This is a strong retelling with definite YA appeal, particularly in Telemachos's final triumph, where he takes the chariot reins of his life in his own hands.” —School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“Readers without prior knowledge of the Homeric epics can fully enjoy this as a rousing adventure, but those who are already acquainted with Odysseus' tale will appreciate Barrett's audacious take on the arrogant hero and his milquetoast son.” —BCCB

“Telemachos' first-person narration allows readers to experience the complexity of his character as the prince matures and evolves into a leader that would make any parent proud.” —Booklist

“Readers are sure to enjoy a fast-paced story and action-packed journey in this tale of Telemachos, only son of Odysseus…What a great complement for readers of The Odyssey!” —Library Media Connection

“With its focus on Telemachos's determination and growth, Barrett's tale should be an enjoyable and accessible primer for readers who've not yet read the original.” —Publishers Weekly

“A rousing introduction to epic characters and mythic creatures of ancient Greece from the fresh perspective of an engaging young hero.” —Kirkus Reviews

VOYA - Lisa Martincik
When Telemachos was a baby, his father, Odysseus, left home to fight in the Trojan War. Sixteen years later he has yet to return, and his kingdom, Ithaka, is suffering a slow decline while suitors line up at the door of his wife, Penelopeia. Circumstances are dire enough for Telemachos to consult a dangerous local prophet, who encourages him to leave his small island home in search of his father. With centaur friend Brax (and a stowaway), he must overcome a deathly fear of sailing to reach distant Pylos in the hopes King Nestor will have news of Odysseus. A life of idleness has little prepared him for treachery he encounters. Retaining major elements of Homer's Oddysey, Barrett's story is gentler and more relatable but also provides more danger and adventure for Telemachos. On his journey he finds kings more human and receptions more nuanced than the simple, glad welcomes from that tale. Younger than his counterpart in Homer's epic, he has more lessons to learn and shares them with good friends, and the ending involves less bloodshed and the glorification thereof. Barrett does a fine job of making a standalone story that does not stray too far from the classic, and although her characters are less iconic, they are nonetheless heroic, relatable and sympathetic, without being anything like perfect people. Along with interesting details of ancient life, Barrett sneaks in contemporary lessons about prejudice, courage, and compassion. This is a fun and brisk read told in simple prose and compelling style. Reviewer: Lisa Martincik
Children's Literature - Dawna Lisa Buchanan
Telemachos has never seen his father, Odysseus, who left Ithaka when he was just an infant. Now sixteen, he becomes aware of how run-down the kingdom is, and how hard his mother is working to keep things going. A reluctant hero, he consults with the frightening seer "Daisy" and learns he must go in search of his father. The muse quizzes him on characteristics of a good king. Telemachos can only come up with three ideas—strength, bravery and generosity. Daisy claws at him, leaving four terrible wounds on his face. All but one heal as he embarks on his journey. Her parting instructions are to "return to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not. On that day the king will return." (pg. 66) With his friends Brax (a centaur) and Polydora (a human girl), the young man sets out to sea. He visits the kingdom of Pylos, from whence he is sent on to Sparta. Along the way the prince of Pylos robs and abandons him, but with the help of his friends (who come and go with troubles of their own throughout this tale), he arrives in Sparta, only to learn that there is no help from that kingdom either. Telemachos is tested time and time again. He aids a sea monster tangled in a net, and buries a dead water nymph. Upon his return to his Ithaka, he discovers that his father has returned. Odysseus, however, has other plans. Telemachos has fulfilled the first three injunctions of the prophecy, but now understands the fourth thing that makes a king great—compassion. His last wound heals, and he prepares to restore his kingdom. Barrett knows her Greek history, and fills the narrative with delightful references and details that make the characters and setting compelling. An excellent choice for mature young adult readers. Reviewer: Dawna Lisa Buchanan
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Odysseus has been gone for nearly all of his son's life. Despite being a prince, Telemachos has grown up with few responsibilities, until the day his neighbors declare that his father must be dead, and his mother must marry one of them so that there would be a king. In response, Telemachos, who has never left the kingdom, says he will travel the world to search for word of his father. Accompanied by Brax, a centaur, and runaway weaver Polydora, the teen discovers that the world is full of dangers, some of them giving the appearance of friendship. He also begins to discover what a good kingship requires by viewing the hurting realms of Pylos and Sparta. Readers familiar with The Odyssey will know some of how the story ends, but Barrett's depictions of familiar characters and situations are surprising and fresh, allowing a new tale to be told inside the old one. The author also makes much of no one expecting poets to tell the truth, just a good story, and Telemachos's own narrative ends with the traditional concluding words of a poet that seem to be a tongue-in-cheek commentary on storytelling. This is a strong retelling with definite YA appeal, particularly in Telemachos's final triumph, where he takes the chariot reins of his life in his own hands.—Alana Joli Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Kirkus Reviews

In this hero's quest drawn from Homer's Odyssey, Telemachos, only child of Odysseus, King of Ithaka, has waited 16 years for his wandering father to return from the Trojan wars while his dutiful mother, Penelopeia, fends off would-be suitors. When a stranger challenges him to find his father, Telemachos consults an oracle, who prophesies Ithaka will have a king only after he searches for Odysseus and returns "to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not." Adventure follows Telemachos as he sails to Pylos and travels cross country to Sparta with his centaur pal, Brax, and their (human) female chum, Polydora. He chronicles this perilous journey in the first person, allowing readers to witness his metamorphosis from an immature, self-centered youth to an appealing leader who eclipses his famous father in strength, bravery, generosity and compassion, fulfilling the cryptic prophecy. A rousing introduction to epic characters and mythic creatures of ancient Greece from the fresh perspective of an engaging young hero. (Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Square Fish
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.66(w) x 8.19(h) x 0.75(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt


Brax snorted and stamped, his bony knee grazing my ear. I sat back on my heels and pushed the damp hair off my forehead. “Hold still,” I said. “How do you expect me to do this if you kick my head in?”

“Sorry,” Brax said. I could tell that the thorn in his belly was more annoying than painful, but centaurs are not known for their patience. It must be the horse half of their nature that makes them impatient—and always hungry—and until I removed the thorn, Brax would be irritable and my skull would be at risk.

My nails were bitten down to the skin, and every time I tried to seize the small thorn I only pushed it farther in. I parted Brax’s stiff dark-brown hair again and took a deep breath so I wouldn’t have to inhale his horse-scent at close range during the operation. I caught the tiny sliver between my teeth and eased it out, then spat it on the ground.

“Hey!” Brax turned, and I dodged just in time. “I wanted to see that!”

“It was only a thorn,” I said. “There’s not even any blood.”

Brax snorted again. “Thanks.”

I nodded, the taste of horse sweat still on my lips. Being a centaur has its advantages—speed, strength, and especially the company of girl centaurs—but it must be frustrating not to be able to reach back far enough to pull a thorn out of your belly or scratch your hind end without a branch.

I got to my feet and dusted off my knees. Now we were going to be late. Our friend Damon, who had overheard two girls at the well making plans to meet at the beach for recreation, decided that we would certainly find it recreational to watch them. But then Brax had blundered into the thornbush and refused to go on until the annoyance had been removed. He couldn’t canter to make up time, since the way to our girl-watching spot was rocky and his hooves slipped on the uneven surface, so I was able to keep up with him.

We took the last bit slowly. I crouched down so I would be less visible through the brush, but of course Brax couldn’t do that, so we had to trust to luck that the girls wouldn’t look in our direction until we were settled behind the boulders that shielded us. He hunched his broad shoulders and bent his long legs, but it didn’t make much difference in his height.

As I flung myself down on my stomach next to Damon, he whispered, “What took you so long?”

“Had to perform surgery on Brax,” I whispered back. “Thorn in belly.” Damon grimaced sympathetically.

Brax had dropped to his knees and was wriggling forward. He flattened himself as much as he could behind the tallest rock as I settled into the warm sand behind a shorter one. The sun was brilliant and the day even smelled hot. The waves lapping on the rocks of the shore sounded intoxicatingly cool.

“All clear?” Brax asked Damon in a low voice.

He nodded. “They haven’t looked up here once.”

I raised myself enough to peer over the rock, and there they were. Brax’s sister Saba, with her honey-colored back and flanks, was mincing forward into the water. Her hips swayed as only a horse’s can. “It’s cold!” she squealed to the two other girls (both human), who hesitated on the shore. Ignore her, I thought. Fortunately, they did, and Charissa waded in, hoisting her white linen skirt to just below her knees.

“Oh gods,” Damon breathed. Glimpses of girl ankles were rare. Charissa walked in farther, her hips shifting as she stepped on the uneven rocks. “Lift it higher,” he urged under his breath, and, as though hearing him, she raised the now soggy hem a bit more. She was deeper in the water, though, so we had to be content with the wavy view of her calves through the ripples.

“It’s not that cold.” Charissa had a musical voice. She caught up with Saba, and they linked arms. I’ve seen vases painted with huge centaurs, their backs as large as horses’, but of course this is nonsense. A centaur stands no taller than a human, and the horse half is only the size of a donkey. The two girls stood shoulder to shoulder, their backs to us. Charissa turned and beckoned to the plump and rosy Kyra. She joined them, squealing as the little ripples struck her thighs and waist.

Together the three girls advanced, splashing their own arms and then one another. Damon and I forgot ourselves and half rose to gaze as they laughed and ducked and played. I longed to join them in the cool water, but they would only run and tell someone and we would be severely punished, or at least Damon would. Worse, our hiding place would be exposed.

Brax watched us with a little grin on his sunburned face. He didn’t mind that we were ogling his sister. Centaurs don’t care about those things, and besides, he always thought it was funny that the sight of girls got us so excited. For centaurs (and satyrs too) it is the scent of female that is interesting, not the sight.

The girls were facing out to sea. They had wrapped their arms loosely around one another’s waists and were singing a spring song, their shoulders undulating. Beneath the water their hips must be swaying too, but the bright light winking off the surface made their lower halves invisible, even Saba’s. This added to her appeal, at least for me. I’ve always had friends among the centaurs and satyrs and have never called them hairy-backs or other insulting terms, but I prefer human girls. Not that I’d turn up my nose at a pretty nymph, of course.

“Do you think they know we’re here?” Damon asked, settling back on his heels.

“Of course they know,” Brax said.

“What?” I was shocked. Girls are supposed to preserve their modesty. Human girls, anyway. Surely Charissa and Kyra would never behave like this if they knew we were there.

“Why did they leave their clothes on, then?” Brax asked. “Don’t they usually take them off to go swimming? And why did Charissa lift her robe if it was going to get wet anyway?”

Silence while Damon and I digested this thought. Brax added, “Do you think it’s an accident that Damon overheard them at the well?”

The girls had finished their song and were dipping themselves into the water.

Damon squinted up at the sun. “I’d better get back.” The regret was plain in his voice. His gentle father wouldn’t beat him or even rebuke him if he found the plow lying where Damon had abandoned it, but he would pick it up and finish the field himself, tired as he was from his own work. This would reproach my friend more than a thrashing. He rocked back off his heels to a seated position and stretched. “Telemachos, do you have to go home too?”

I shrugged. “My mother didn’t say anything.”

Damon grunted and stood, brushing sand off his clothes. He sighed. “Your sister is lucky.”

Brax and I looked at him in surprise. “I don’t have a sister,” I said. Damon knew that as well as I did.

“Just what I mean,” he answered. “That’s why she’s lucky. She’s lucky she was never born. Your mother would keep her locked in the house and not let her spend her day at the beach.”

This was true. My mother thought that a boy—especially a prince—should do what ever he wanted, at least most of the time, but that girls had to preserve the old traditions. “You’re right,” I admitted. “Mother says that when her sister Aglaia was a girl she was so wild that their mother kept her chained to her loom all day to force her to do her weaving.”

A tale about a girl being chained and imprisoned would normally have drawn Damon’s attention like a bee to nectar, but a sudden burst of noise from behind us made me jump and reach for my knife. Damon spun and stood half crouching, at the ready to defend us from whoever—or whatever—was pounding across the rocks.

He lowered his arms as a small figure shoved its way through the brush.

It was his younger sister Polydora, who had been a nuisance to us ever since she could walk. Now she stood, sweating in the heavy weaver’s smock she wore over her clothes. One of her black braids had come undone, and she held Bito, Damon’s youngest sister—he had three—on her hip. The little girl had a finger in her mouth and looked at me with the same accusatory glare that Poly was fixing on her brother.

“What do you want?” Damon asked. “And what are you doing all the way out here without Father or me?”

“You’re here,” she retorted. Damon sighed. It was no good reminding her that young ladies don’t travel by themselves. Poly always did what she wanted, regardless of propriety. I hadn’t seen her for a few months, but in that time she apparently hadn’t learned to do what was expected of her.

I left them to their family quarrel and glanced without hope over the edge of the rock. Sure enough, the girls must have heard us. They had dried themselves and were rearranging one another’s hair. I knew they couldn’t have helped hearing Poly’s approach—for someone so small, she made a lot of noise—but I had been hopeful that I would catch them still in the process of drying off.

Polydora followed my gaze and then shot me a look of scorn that would have shriveled me if I hadn’t been accustomed to it. She turned back to her brother. “You have to come home and finish your work. Father will be back soon, and if he sees the plow—”

But Damon wasn’t listening to her. He was staring into the distance, not where the girls had been bathing, but farther out.

“Telemachos.” His voice was tense. “Look out there.” He pointed straight into the swath of bright sunshine.

“Where?” I squinted. Brax shaded his eyes with one hand and looked out. Poly, still holding Bito, moved closer and leaned over the rock, her black eyes squinting against the sun.

“Move over this way,” Damon said. I leaned against him and lined my gaze up with his. My vision was less sharp than his, and Brax wasn’t paying much attention, so it took me a few seconds to make out what he was seeing, but then Polydora gave an exclamation and I too finally saw it.

A sail.

Excerpted from King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett.

Copyright © 2010 by Tracy Barrett.

Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Meet the Author

Tracy Barrett is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including the Sherlock Files books, Cold in Summer, and Anne of Byzantium. Her books have been named an ALA Best Book for young adults, a Bank Street best children's book of the year, and a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age, among many other honors. She is a professor of Italian language and civilization at Vanderbilt University and lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee.

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