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King of Ithaka

King of Ithaka

4.6 5
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


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)

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King of Ithaka

By Tracy Barrett

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2010 Tracy Barrett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4769-5


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 whatever 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.


Without a word to my friends or Polydora, I raced home, tripping over a rock and sliding on a patch of gravel before I reached the road. I was out of breath when I finally stumbled to a stop in the dust in front of the women's quarters.

Until only three years ago, I would have passed through that door as freely as through any other in the palace, but when I turned thirteen I was banished to the men's quarters, and I hadn't set foot in the female apartments since. I straightened my clothes, tried to calm my ragged breathing, and knocked.

And knocked again. Nothing.

"Mother!" I bellowed. "Eurykleia!"

Still nothing. I pounded on the door. Would no one come?

Finally, a voice from inside said, "Hush, boy," and the hinges creaked. Their dry squeak was remarkably similar to the voice.

Eurykleia, my old nurse (and my father's before me), didn't look happy to see me. Her face, already deeply lined with age, showed even more creases where her cheek had rested on her pillow, and her wiry gray hair stuck out around her head. Belatedly, I remembered that it was the hour of the women's mid-afternoon nap. No matter; they could rest another time.

"A ship." Before I could go on, my mother stood in the doorway, her clothing loosened for sleep.

"A ship?" Her lips went white.

"Traders. Not a warship."

"But still," she said, knotting a cord around her stout waist, "they might have some word. They might even have seen —" She stopped, but that was enough. Word of your father, she meant. Might even have seen the mighty Odysseus.

"Eurykleia," Mother said, but she had no need to give orders. Although it had been a year since we had last seen strangers, my old nurse needed no reminding about what to do. She hobbled away, screeching at the slaves to start preparing a meal for guests.

I needed no reminders either. The ship was far enough away that it wouldn't land for at least an hour — if it did land, that is. Sometimes ships went right past our small, rocky island as though it was of no consequence, eager to arrive at the wealthy cities on the mainland. But this one was headed straight toward our main harbor. I hurried to the men's quarters to scrub the dirt and sand from my body and face.

I hadn't bathed properly in a long time, and I had to work the pumice hard to rub off the brownish skin that had built up, especially on my feet. I scraped my heels raw and stopped scrubbing at my toes only when they began to bleed.

I dried myself hastily and found my good tunic. It was too short now, and Mother was weaving cloth for a new one. Still, it was better than my everyday clothing and would have to do. I slid it on over my head. The wool felt light and cool and didn't irritate my skin, still burning from my bath, as the tunic dropped over my hips. My mother's cloth was always fine and soft, even when the garment was brand-new and hadn't yet been broken in by long wearing.

A little oil to try to tame my curls, a good swab of my teeth with a rough linen cloth, and I was ready to go.

Except for one thing. My shoes. I hadn't worn them in weeks. Where had I left them? I couldn't go down to the harbor barefoot like a laborer. These sailors, even if they were only traders, had to be welcomed with all the courtesy a royal family could extend to them.

Cursing the delay, I tossed bedclothes and dirty undergarments around and even lifted up the sleeping pallets to look under them. My shoes clearly weren't in the bedchamber. Where had I pitched them the last time I wore them?

I poked my head into the dark storeroom and sneezed from the dust and the musty smell of the broken furniture and tools that had lain unused since my father's departure and were now jumbled everywhere, along with old farm implements, my mother's broken loom, and various kitchen items in need of repair. I groaned when something moved in a shadowy corner and a dry voice said, "Hey, boy!"

I should have known that my grandfather would be taking a rest far away from where the women would look for him. He was sitting bolt upright, wisps of white hair sticking out in all directions, a wide smile on his face. "Oh no," I muttered under my breath. This was clearly one of what my mother called his "good days," when he was happy and talkative, not curled up refusing to move, even to eat or relieve himself. Normally I wouldn't mind indulging him with chat, but now I itched to get down to the harbor.

"My boy!" Yes, definitely a "good day."

"Yes, Grandfather?"

He looked at me carefully. "Are you my son?"

I shook my head. "No, Grandfather. I'm your grandson." I shifted from one foot to the other, hoping he would get to the point soon, so I could leave. How close had the ship come during the search for my shoes, and now this?

He peered harder at me. "Are you sure? I only ask because you look so much like Odysseus." My mother too had said this many times, as had Eurykleia.

"But I'm also different." I tugged at my hair. "See? Brown curls. What is Odysseus' hair like?"

"Straight," he said warily, as though avoiding a trap. "Black."

"And is he this tall?" I straightened to my full height.

The old man shook his head, looking up at me. "No, he's shorter than I am." Maybe that had been true once, but now that my grandfather was bent over in his old age a six-year-old girl could look him in the eye. "And he's bandy-legged. Your legs are straight. And long," he added, as though surprised. He looked me over once more. "No beard."

I felt myself flush. I wasn't happy to be reminded how slow my beard was to come in and hadn't planned to mention that difference between me and my father.

"So am I your son?" At last he would let me go.

The blissful smile returned to my grandfather's face. "Odysseus!" He held out his skinny arms.

Oh gods. I'd have to find some way to convince him, or when I left for the harbor he'd be brokenhearted at a second desertion by his son, and my mother would be angry. But I couldn't stand to wait much longer.

"No, I'm his son," I said.

"You're my son?"

"No, I'm his son." I paused. I had to do this right. "I'm your son's son. Odysseus' son, and Penelopeia's. Your grandson."

"I'm your grandson?" Even he had enough wit left to be skeptical.

"No." I sighed. A change of subject might work. "Would you like a cup of wine, Grandfather?"

His eyes lit up, and he licked his lips. He nodded, and as I moved to the door he said, "And don't weaken it too much!"

"Of course not," I reassured him, although I planned to send him only a cup of water with barely enough wine added to color it. At last I could go.

I made my escape. At the kitchen door I nearly collided with my mother. "Mother, have you seen my — Oh." Dangling from her hand were two worn sandals. I bent to put them on, leaning on her shoulder for balance. When I straightened, my toes hung off the fronts, and my heels scraped the ground behind. I pulled them off again. "I'll wear them once I get there. Maybe the traders won't look at me too closely. Mother, tonight can Brax —" I began, but she was shaking her head even before I finished.

"No, dear. No forest people at the table. Not when we have guests. Strangers wouldn't understand how it is here. They're used to bigger cities, I expect, where humans stay with their own kind."


Excerpted from King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett. Copyright © 2010 Tracy Barrett. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Tracy Barrett is the author of several novels, including On Etruscan Time, Cold in Summer, Anna of Byzantium, and the Sherlock Files series. She also teaches Italian language and civilization at Vanderbilt University. Tracy lives with her family in Nashville, Tennessee.

Tracy Barrett is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including the Sherlock Files books, King of Ithaka, 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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King of Ithaka 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well, I was a bit upset that Odysseys' character was changed from his humbler self, and that the suitors had been much nicer than in the original story, but still an excellent book and worthy of much more praise than it is receiving! Also, great narration!!! :)
socraticparenting More than 1 year ago
At sixteen, Telemachos sets off on his own Odyssey in search of his father who has not yet returned to Ithaka from the Trojan War. As in Homer’s Odyssey, Telemachos sails to Pylos to consult King Nestor, and Nestor’s son Pisistratos agrees to take Telemachos to Sparta in his chariot to ask King Menelaos what has become of Odysseus. Mythological creatures and deities live anew in this coming-of-age adventure where a young prince discovers the meaning of friendship and the true qualities of a king. Telemachos must find within himself the strength, bravery and generosity of a king along with another essential quality that Nestor, Menelaos, and even Odysseus seem to be lacking. Barrett weaves many delightful twists into an old tale by assuring us that great poets such as Homer were beloved for their ability to create a beautiful story, not their historical accuracy.
Sydney Baccam More than 1 year ago
Overall, the book was great. It switched the original myth into something more creative and different. But in the end, I had hoped that the author would have kept the same ending as the orginal myth itself.
Reader1793 More than 1 year ago
It reminded me of a Greek fable that told pretty much the same story. Love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago