Author: Esther Friesner
Genre: YA Historic Fiction
Released: 24 April 2007
Series: Nobody's Princess #1
She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Not one to count on the gods—or her looks—to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with steely determination and a sassy attitude. That same attitude makes Helen a few enemies—such as the self-proclaimed "son of Zeus" Theseus—but it also intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the famed huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.
I stumbled upon this book by chance, and I'm so glad I did! As someone who has been studying history for several years, and currently majoring in history at University, this book appealed to me a lot, especially since I already had some idea of what ancient Sparta was like. Granted, I haven't studied Helen of Troy or much of the mythology in the book that closely, but it was easy to pick up on the story and imagine the place and time which Helen was living.
The story follows Helen of Troy, or really, Helen of Sparta, as a child and teenager. We see her in the Spartan palace, working towards her future as Queen of Sparta, but trying to avoid the traditional path laid out for her. Instead of needlework with the other ladies, Helen is more at home outside in the training yard with her brothers, learning how to fight and be a strong Queen, able to lead her future army into battle. Of course, a future queen cannot be seen acting like such a boy, and so only a few know about Helen's training, including her supportive mother. When her twin sister is to marry the Prince of Mykenae, Helen, along with her brothers, join their sister on her journey to her new kingdom. However, the real adventure begins when Helen's brothers, Castor and Polydeuces decide to head to Calydon to join the hunt for a rabid boar. Helen soon discovers that she doesn't want to be an average queen, and sees her future on the battlefield and on quests that will make her one of the most heroic and famous queens of her time, not just a pretty face.
I really enjoyed this book and it combined mythology and history with fiction to create an interesting story. Because I have studied Ancient Spartan and Greek culture and society, I loved reading pieces that I had some knowledge of and knew what things were referring to. However, this doesn't mean that someone who doesn't have this history or mythology knowledge won't be able to enjoy this book. If you love books about strong female roles, then this is something you will definitely enjoy. The message that Helen embodies is that you should be judged and praised on your abilities, not your looks, which is something that a lot of teenagers and young girls need to see in literature. It's great to see that Friesner has written a story (actually a series of stories) that have strong female leads that focus on their strengths, not their beauty.
However, I feel Helen lacks development and we fail to see any real difference in character and voice from the ages of six to fourteen - if it hadn't been for the mention of her age changes, I may have thought to were six through the entire book. Also, the fleeting mentions of many myths seemed to only create more questions. Yes, they may be myths a lot of people are familiar with, but a little bit more of an in-depth discussion of them wouldn't have gone astray. Some myths seemed only to have been mentioned for the sake of cramming as much Greek mythology into the book as possible, and the myths actually to do with the story where glossed over. But, it's only a small issue from someone who loves history and mythology.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and will definitely be continuing on with the sequel Nobody's Prize which picks up exactly where this novel ended. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys history, Greek mythology, and strong and independent female leads.