Tagged: helen of troy

Penelope’s Daughter by Laurel Corona

Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona(Cover picture courtesy of Excuse Me, I’m Writing.)

The award-winning author of The Four Seasons retells The Odyssey from the point of view of Odysseus and Penelope’s daughter.

With her father Odysseus gone for twenty years, Xanthe barricades herself in her royal chambers to escape the rapacious suitors who would abduct her to gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother’s cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.

And when a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future-a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn’t know she exists…

For me, this book was a solid ‘meh’.  There were some elements that were awesome and some that weren’t but the main reason for my indifferent reaction is the lack of emotional quality in Laurel Corona’s writing.  I know Xanthe falls in love at one point.  Do I really feel it?  Not so much.

My favourite part of the whole novel is probably the level of detail that was put into it.  Laurel Corona seamlessly wove Xanthe’s story into the greater story of the Trojan War, bringing life into a character Homer never considered important.  I loved all the little details about weaving but also the details of daily life in Ithaca and Sparta.  The author has this way of describing things that makes you feel like you’re actually there.  It’s a truly magical experience.

One of the so-so aspects of the novel was the characters.  Helen was fascinating and I can honestly say I would’ve preferred hearing her point of view than Xanthe’s.  Xanthe is a rather bland character overall and as I said earlier I felt no emotional attachment to her.  She got mad at times, was in love, felt true happiness, etc.  Yet I, the reader, felt pretty much none of it.  I was being told she experienced these things rather than experiencing them right along with her.  The odd part was that I really felt for Helen so it could be a matter of personal preference.  Who knows?

The plot does drag in some places, particularly during Xanthe’s childhood in Ithaca.  I love all of the little details to be sure, but some of them really just didn’t need to be there to understand the story.  Sometimes Xanthe’s chronicle dragged when she was with Helen in Sparta and that was rather disappointing considering how amazing Helen is in this interpretation.  Overall the plot was fairly good but I did feel let down at the end of the novel when Odysseus returns.  It just felt like Laurel Corona was rehashing the myth without adding a new variation on it.

Basically, meh.  Penelope’s Daughter has some good and some bad in it.  It’s worth a try if you think it sounds interesting but I wouldn’t go out of my way to convince you to read it.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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The Hittite by Ben Bova

The Hittite by Ben Bova(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

This is the tale of Lukka, the Hittite soldier who traveled across Greece in search of the vicious slave traders who kidnapped his wife and sons.  He tracks them all the way to war-torn Troy.  There he proves himself a warrior to rank with noble Hector and swift Achilles.  Lukka is the man who built the Trojan horse for crafty Odysseus, who toppled the walls of Jericho for the Isrealites, who stole beautiful Helen–the legendary face that launched a thousand ships–from her husband Menaleus after the fall of Troy and fought his way across half the known world to bring her safely to Egypt.

I wasn’t really sure what I expected of The Hittite, but it certainly wasn’t what I got.  The opening scene takes place amidst the chaos of the sack of Hattusas where Lukka is desperately trying to keep discipline in the garrison while finding his family.  The once mighty Hittite empire has been thrown into chaos by a bloody civil war and once Lukka learns that his wife and sons are bound for Troy as slaves, there’s only one place he can go.  Except when he gets there, not all is as it seems.

The thing I like most about The Hittite is how Ben Bova portrayed all of the famous characters from the proud (and vain) Achilles to Helen.  I love how Achilles is the proud fool he was in the original legend while Helen is an independent woman desperate to survive in a world where women are, for the most part, chattel.  The most heartbreaking part of the whole novel is when we hear Helen’s tale from Apet her nursemaid and see just how much she really did suffer in Sparta.  It’s a much more realistic portrayal of Spartan life than I’ve ever seen and had I been in Helen’s place I would have done the exact same thing: use Paris to escape to Troy.

The other thing I liked was that Ben Bova’s writing style has the perfect balance for historical fiction.  He is able to describe everything so that I felt like I was there, but he never really gets into the long-winded descriptions that some authors of historical fiction do.  I liked how he explained the implausible things from the Trojan myth (Achilles’ weakness, the Trojan horse) in a way that makes you believe it really could have happened that way and the story could have just grown into something more.

Overall, I absolutely loved The Hittite.  I wasn’t going to pick it up at first, but it was in the bargain bin at my local bookstore so I figured I had nothing to lose.  Trust me, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fall in love with The Hittite once you start reading it.  It’s well worth the cover price.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Short Story: The Curse of Troy by Luciana Cavallaro

The Curse of Troy by Luciana Cavallaro(Cover picture courtesy of Kobo Books.)

Enter a world where legend and reality blur. Queen Helen of Sparta, the most beautiful and desirable woman in the world is both renowned and condemned for prompting a war. Two great powers—the Achaeans and Trojans—fighting a bloody battle where thousands of men died. The grounds of Ilium steeped in their blood. Gone is the age where heroes tread the earth with their magnificence and god given gifts.

But did this all happen as we have been led to believe?

(Blurb excerpt courtesy of Luciana Cavallaro’s website.)

[Full disclosure: Luciana Cavallaro provided me with a free ebook copy of her short story in exchange for an honest review.]

This is my first ever short story review, so please bear with me.

However, this is definitely not the first short story I’ve ever read.  If I’m going to be honest, it’s probably one of the best I’ve read.  I enjoyed The Curse of Troy so much that I wish it had been longer, say novel-lenth.  Luciana Cavallaro’s approach to the famous legend of Troy was most definitely unique and it’s one that I’d like to see more of.

Told from the point of view of a young historian talking to the much older Helen after the events of the Trojan War, The Curse of Troy offers a much more sympathetic version of events.  I don’t want to give too much away, but have you ever considered that Helen was completely innocent of pretty much everything she was accused of?  This sounds quite incredulous, but I assure you that Luciana Cavallaro has packed enough information in this 30 page short story to make you see just such a possibility.

Even in such a limited format, the character of Helen came across very well.  Having Helen tell her version of events to our first-person narrator was an interesting approach and we were able to see her reflect upon her youth with an older, more mature perspective.  Her interaction with the unnamed young historian (our narrator) also revealed quite a bit of her character.  Make no mistake: this story is about Helen, not our mysterious narrator.  That doesn’t mean our narrator is necessarily one dimensional—he’s not—but it provides us with a fresh look at the (in)famous woman of legend.

I give this story 5/5 stars.

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*Only available as an ebook.