Children's Literature - Jeanne K. Pettenati J.D.
The face that would launch 1000 shipswhat was Helen of Troy like as a child growing up in Sparta? The author of this engaging novel paints her as an headstrong girl who bucks tradition and longs to be trained as a warrior. Helen, the darling of her father, King Tyndareus of Sparta, is not content to do women's work like her sister. She goes from being a curious, spoiled girl to a brave adolescent in this adventure tale, which brings ancient Greece alive for young readers. Children who accompany Helen on this journey will travel to Bronze Age Greece, a fascinating place with royal palaces, grand feasts, slavery, the Oracle of Delphi, and a bloody boar hunt. Readers learn about the Spartans and the gods they worship. Helen sees quite a bit of the world while she is still young. She accompanies her sister to Mykenae for her marriage. From there it is on to Calydon, with her brothers to attend the wild boar hunt. Then it is on to Delphi, where Helen uses her brains to outsmart guards and an unwanted suitor. Children, especially girls, will identify with Helen and her desire for independence as she grows up. As she learns from her siblings, parents, servants, and her own observations of the world around her, Helen becomes more confident of her choices. Helen is coming of age, and she is not looking back. Readers certainly will be entertained, but they will also learn quite a bit about the culture, history, and myths of Ancient Greece. Reviewer: Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D.
VOYA - Diane Colson
Helen of Sparta's mesmerizing beauty is said to have "launched a thousand ships." But surely there must be more to her story than that. In this fascinating rendition by Nebula Award-winner Friesner, Helen is indeed a beautiful princess, but more important, she is also feisty and fiercely independent. As a child, Helen realizes that she will never accept a life filled with needlework, patiently waiting for a husband to be chosen for her. Helen prefers learning other skills, such as swordplay, something that would prepare her for the kind of adventures that her brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, seem destined to pursue. Helen's wish is fulfilled when she accompanies her sister, Clytemnestra, to the land of Mykanae, where Clytemnestra is to marry Prince Tantalus. There she meets the powerful woman warrior, Atalanta, who inspires Helen with the possibility of living life on her own terms. Other characters that legend promises will become key figures in Helen's future are introduced throughout the story, such as the handsome Theseus and his sidekick, Pirithous. Although this tale of Helen's earliest years is told well enough to captivate readers, the hint of grand tales to come will make the book a must-read for fans of fantasy and mythology. Friesner is an intelligent storyteller, writing confidently about an ancient time filled with a cast of gods and heroes. The seductive cover, which depicts a sassy girl with a dagger carelessly slung about her waist, will go a long way toward selling this excellent book.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
To quote the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, May 2007: Who was Helen before she was Helen of Troy? Friesner tells about Helen's childhood and ends the story just as Helen is entering adulthoodin Bronze Age Greece, this is at puberty. Friesner tells of Atalanta, Theseus, Castor and Polydeuces, Clytemnestra. She writes of the importance of the gods in the lives of these peopleof Artemis and Aphrodite, of Zeus. She reminds readers in her note at the end that the events in this story were meant to happen nearly 1000 years before the Parthenon, the dramatists, and the war between Athens and Spartawhat we identify as Classical Greece. Helen's story is from the ancient oral traditions recorded by Homer centuries before the Parthenon was built. Friesner even begins before Homer's recounting of the story of Helen in The Iliada story that portrays Helen as a beautiful pawn in the more "important" story of war and heroes. Friesner makes Helen a strong young woman, savvy to the political tensions, eager to learn physical skills such as hunting and riding. She is beloved by her older brothers, who include her in their adventures. Friesner points out that the traditions of Sparta some years later included training young women for war and promoting physical endurance. This story will please readers interested in ancient Greek legends. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Before she was Helen of Troy and her face launched a thousand ships, she was Helen of Sparta, tomboyish teen and future queen, at least according to this novel. Not much was written about her in classical literature before she became embroiled with Paris and Menelaus, so this is Friesner's backstory. Helen, not interested in the typical princess duties and responsibilities, would rather learn the ways of a warrior with her brothers. She trains secretly, growing stronger and more accomplished than anyone expects. When her sister, Clytemnestra, goes to Mykenae for her marriage, Helen, longing to see the world, begs to accompany her and her brothers. She makes her first official royal visit and nearly gets trapped there by the scheming king. However, a beast devastating the countryside causes all of the warriors gathered in Mykenae to create a hunting party headed for Calydon, and Helen manages to include herself. There, she meets Atalanta, a fascinating female warrior and a role model. After killing the giant boar, Helen and her brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, head for home. They stop to visit the Oracle at Delphi, where their journey takes a new direction as they join Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece. No prior knowledge of the Iliad and the Odyssey is required to appreciate this story. The plot flows well, and readers will find this Helen interesting, if somewhat predictable. Fans of mythology or historical fiction will enjoy this lively tale.
Cheri DobbsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Nebula Award-winner and Hugo-finalist Friesner disappointingly offers humdrum fare based on Greek mythology. Meet Helen of Sparta, not yet of Troy. True to Spartan history, she's a strong female (literally), and prepped by her mother to one day be queen. Though it's true that the real Helen was probably a legitimate wrestler, Friesner has her spunky, stubborn and contrarian heroine dressing as a boy to be trained in sword-fighting beside her brothers Castor and Polydeceus. She then sneaks off with them to participate in the historic hunt of the Calydonian Boar . . . and at the end of the volume, prepares readers for a sequel by tagging along with Jason's Argonauts. Friesner uses these legends as a backdrop for a Xena Warrior Princess-type of character of 21st-century sensibilities-with entertaining and popular results, but not uniquely or distinctively, and without much respect for or elucidation of the actual mythology. Some may enjoy the romp. (Fiction. 11-14)
From the Publisher
“This is my kind of Helen!”–Tamora Pierce
Read an Excerpt
A Sacrifice to Artemis
I grew up with the gods all around me. When the dawn came, it was because the goddess Eos brought it. The sun was Apollo’s chariot, and the crescent moon was the hunting bow of his sister, Artemis. Every river had its god, and so did each of the winds that blew from north, south, east, and west.
Ione was the first person to teach me about Zeus, king of all the gods; his queen, Hera, who blessed marriages; his brother Poseidon, who was master of the great ocean; and his other brother, Hades, who lived deep under the earth and ruled the dead. But most of her stories were about Demeter, the goddess who gave us bountiful harvests. That was understandable. Ione was a farmer’s wife.
Even though we were supposed to revere all of the gods equally, most people honored some gods more than others. Why would a fisherman bother making a sacrifice to Hephaestus the armorer, god of the forge, when he could be praying to Poseidon for smooth seas and full nets? Why would a metalworker waste time worshipping Poseidon when he could be asking for Hephaestus’s blessing?
Everyone did it, including me. Ever since the dedi- cation of the rooftop shrine, Aphrodite was my favorite. When I was five, I made a little clay image of her and set it on a table in the room I shared with my sister. When Clytemnestra saw it, she sniffed. “What’s that supposed to be?”
“Aphrodite,” I told her.
“It can’t be Aphrodite. It’s ugly.” She sounded pleased with herself. “Throw it away.”
“It is not ugly!” I cried, reaching out protectively for my little goddess. Unfortunately, I moved too quickly. Instead of cupping the image safely between my palms, I knocked it off the table and sent it tumbling to the floor. The unbaked clay shattered to bits and I burst into tears.
“You’re such a baby, Helen,” Clytemnestra said. “Why are you crying over that ugly thing? If you want a real Aphrodite, just tell Papa. He’ll get you a good one.”
But I still cried, because I didn’t want an image of the goddess that someone else had made. I wanted a statue that was my goddess. The next day, I made another Aphrodite and hid it in the bottom of my clothes chest, safe from my sister’s sneers.
By the time I turned seven, I’d learned that Ione had been partly right about the gods. They weren’t all as kind as Aphrodite. Just as some people liked one god more than another, some of us didn’t like certain gods at all.
My father, Tyndareus, didn’t like Artemis, goddess of the moon in heaven, the hunt on earth, and the dark powers of magic from the underworld. I first heard him speak against her during a great banquet that took place ten days before the feast of the huntress. This was a yearly festival when my mother, Queen Leda, led a procession of maidens to the temple of Artemis and offered up the sacrifice while they danced and sang for the goddess. It was the one shrine in all Sparta where the queen worshipped alone and the king never set foot.
The banquet was being given to honor a group of very important guests, envoys from the island kingdom of Ithaka. I sat beside my mother and heard her tell one of our guests about the coming celebration.
“No men? Really?” the guest replied. “Well, if that’s what pleases Artemis, I suppose you don’t have any choice.”
Even I could tell that he was just making polite conversation. He didn’t really care about the goddess.
My father did care, very much, in his own way. “Oh yes, we must give Artemis exactly what she wants,” he said. He was smiling, acting as if he was joking, but there was something serious under the light words. “She’ll show us no mercy if we don’t. If you ask me, she doesn’t know the meaning of forgiveness.”
“What makes you say that, Lord Tyndareus?” one of the guests asked.
“Oh, the proof’s there, in the stories. Take the tale of the nymph Callisto, for instance. Now, if a goddess chooses to remain a virgin, like Artemis and Athena, I can’t complain about that. I have nothing against virgins.” He paused and winked at the other grown-ups at the banquet. Most of them laughed, including my mother; I had no idea why. “And if Artemis wants the nymphs who hunt with her to be virgins as well, fine. That’s her choice too. But nymphs are beautiful, and the gods love beauty. The gods are also used to taking what they want, even when what they want says no. What chance does a nymph have against a god? Artemis adored Callisto until Zeus forced her to be his lover and left her with child. It wasn’t Callisto’s fault, but did the goddess care? Did she accept the fact that the nymph was Zeus’s helpless victim? No, she just punished her by turning her into a bear! And that is why I leave other people to make sacrifices to Artemis, because I have kinder goddesses to honor.”
“Lord Tyndareus, be careful of what you say!” The icy words rang out through the great hall. The man who dared to admonish my father in his own palace was one of the Ithakan envoys, a terribly serious stick of a man, young in years but old and bitter in spirit. I’d never seen anyone with such a vinegary face. I thought that if he’d ever smile, he’d crack his jaw. I’d seen how his heavy brows drew into a scowl while my father was talking about Artemis, how his mouth became small as an olive pit until at last it burst open with angry words. “The lady Artemis will not be insulted, not even by kings! She demands payment for all offenses, and no one has the power to refuse her.”
“You mean that she’ll take revenge on me? That would only prove my point.” My father chuckled. He made it clear that he was joking, teasing that pompous creature. Everyone else laughed with him.
“Wait,” the man said ominously. “Wait and see what comes of your sacrilege. The huntress’s arrows never miss their target. Remember Niobe!”
My father stopped laughing. He stood up suddenly, his face dark as a thunderhead, and jabbed one finger at the Ithakan. “You dare to talk to me of sacrilege? In my own house, at my own table? You speak Niobe’s name in the presence of my children? The sacred bond between host and guest is all that’s keeping me from snapping your neck right now! Get out of my sight.”
The Ithakan opened his mouth, but one look at the king’s face was enough for him to seal his lips and rush out of the hall. Even though the road from Sparta to Ithaka was long and dangerous, he didn’t wait for his fellow envoys. He was gone by next morning.
The day after the rest of the Ithakan envoys left us, I asked my father why he’d been so angry. He wouldn’t tell me, but when I went to my mother’s room with the same question, she gave me my answer. “Niobe of Thebes was a great queen but a foolish woman. She mocked Leto, mother of Artemis and Apollo, because the goddess had only two children while she had seven sons and seven daughters.” My mother picked me up and held me close, as if I were still a baby. “For her offense, the divine twins slaughtered all her children in a single day. Their arrows cut them down, every one, even when the queen threw herself across the body of her youngest child and begged Artemis and Apollo to take her life instead. There was no mercy, and when Niobe’s children all lay dead, there was no end to her weeping. The gods finally took pity on her and turned her to stone, but her tears for her children still stream down the face of the rock.”
From the Hardcover edition.