Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Nobody's Princess by Esther Friesner

Main character: Helen of Sparta
Location: Ancient Greece
Time period: Bronze age
Genre: YA Fiction, Greek mythology

Nobody's Princess is a very entertaining take on the legendary Helen of Troy before she became so legendary.

From her very earliest years, Helen has known that she was loved, favored even, by her parents and under the special protection of the goddess Aphrodite. She also learns that she is beautiful and that beauty wins her attention and approval that she doesn't necessarily earn--as her twin Clytemnestra is always eager to point out.

Helen, however, is not content to be just a pretty princess. She wants to learn to be a warrior. She manages to convince her brothers' teacher, Glaucus, to teach her too. Her brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, are skeptical at first, but her determination not to quit no matter how hard things get soon wins them over. When Clytemnestra goes to Mykenae to marry Prince Tantalus, Helen and her brothers accompany her and here Helen's adventures really begin.

Esther Friesner does a great job in reimagining various stories from Greek mythology and fitting Helen into them. This Helen is courageous, rebellious, loyal to her friends, and no fool when it comes to dealing with braggarts--even when they are some of the most famous and admired heroes. These men create the myths that we know today because the truth will not win them fam and glory. What story would you rather hear--that Herakles defeated the seven-headed Hydra or a bunch of swamp snakes?

It's difficult to see how this Helen will grow up to be the selfish and vain queen whose actions lead to the destruction of Troy, as in Caroline Cooney's Goddess of Yesterday but I could being to see how her need for adventure and her chafing at being confined (even if that confinement is in the most luxurious of palaces) might lead her into running away from a loveless marriage.

The story continues in Nobody's Prize.

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