Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize

As is a running theme on this blog, there are some books that have been on my to read list for entirely too long and it's just because I can't get a hold of them and I don't have the budget to blind buy. A lot of times they fall off after a while, I can't remember why I put them on in the first place or the summary starts to sound more stale but this one never did since it's about Helen of Sparta/Troy and, well I'm not named after her but I am interested in the legend*. There aren't as many stories about the Trojan War as there are about other parts of Greek mythology and Helen is always portrayed as either "madonna or whore," and innocent woman who is kidnapped and may-or-may-not have Stockholm Syndrome or someone who willingly deserted her husband and died for it. I was really hoping that these two books would do something different, originally I was going to review them separately but decided that it actually made more sense to talk about it in one review rather than rehash a lot of the same points two times. So there will be some spoilers but not anymore than you'd get if you looked at the summary for the second book before you read the first!

Nobody's Princess & Nobody's Prize by Esther Friesner

Helen of Sparta has been special since she was born since she has always been marked to be Sparta's next queen. This has given her responsibilities and freedom that her siblings don't have but she envies the freedom they have and wishes that she could have full control over her destiny.

To get my biggest complaint out of the way first, this book deals with Helen before she was "Helen of Troy" and when I put down the book my first thought was "geeze that was a big cop-out". The biggest theme of these two books is how stories are a different kind of truth than the kind that happened, the kind of truth that both the listener and the doer want to hear and that many people don't even care about that. Between that idea, a few things said in the book, and Friesner's author notes it's made clear that the Trojan War would have been very different in this book and I wanted to see her take on it since her take on "Jason and the Argonauts" in Nobody's Prize was a pretty interesting one! I wonder if she also struggled with the "how do I portray this person whose barely even a character in their own legend" and opted to try and circumvent that but if that was the goal I don't think she succeed, especially since she made Helen's husband-to-be such an unpleasant character I can't even fathom how she, with all the power it's built up that she will eventually have, ended up marrying him.

Did anything make up for my bitterness there? A bit, like I said I thought her take on Jason was rather creative at times (and other times felt like she was trying to hard, as if the characters should have said "and I really don't know where that part of the story came from") and I had never even heard of Atalanta before^, again it makes me wish that there were more stories out there which focused on the Greek heros and not just the gods but that's clearly not this story. Other than those details however, these books were a bit bland, I never really empathized with any of the main characters and the fact that every time Helen realized she was romantically interested in someone something happened to them got old rather quickly (and Milo never quite worked for me, it felt as if Friesner got halfway through the books and decided she liked him after all and tried to make him a more interesting character after that). So I feel like the book doesn't have enough to offer either the big history buffs or more casual readers, I am still interested in her other books, especially since I read Spirit's Princess years ago which seemed technically stronger, but in the meantime I shall peruse my library for other, similar books instead.  

*I once learned about the Trojan War from a library book I found sitting on our table, discovered quite a while later my mom had just picked it out for me and knew if she left it lying around I'd get to it, I hadn't questioned at the time why it was at my reading level.
^Outside of Fate/Apocrypha where she's a green haired, cat eared, archer so yeah.

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