Saturday, December 1, 2012

Book 8: Nobody's Princess

Book 8: Nobody’s Princess
Nobody’s Princess, Esther Friesner

Helen of Troy’s famous beauty started the Trojan War. But before she and Paris left Menelaus together, she was Helen of Sparta. Freisner’s novel follows Helen during her childhood, and provides an option to what happens between her famous conception – daughter of Zeus, born to royalty – and when Theseus kidnapped her in her early teens. As a child, Helen is already beautiful, but lacks any desire to do the princess and lady-like activities she is supposed to do. When she is forced to spin and weave because all women do it, she hears the message that it is all women can do and they – including she – are trapped. She spends the novel trying to find ways to be free before the day she ultimately is forced to marry and live the life expected of her.

First, she wants to learn to fight like her brothers do. At first she tries to hide who she is, but quickly she learns that she can’t disguise herself from everyone and the weapons master who tutors her brothers agrees to tutor her as long as she hides her lessons from her parents. The lessons are difficult, but Helen learns and keeps going back for more. Then, rumors of a great boar in the land of Helen’s aunt reach their court. Helen’s brothers, along with many of the soldiers and men from Sparta, set off to join the boar hunt, and Helen joins as a diplomatic presence. All of the great princes, warriors, and heroes have arrived to fight the boar, including Atalanta, the daughter of a king who fights better than most warriors. She teaches Helen more, including about riding a horse. When the boar is finally killed, Atalanta is the one who makes it possible. But that night, at the celebration banquet, the honor goes to someone else, and when he tries to give it to her, a riot breaks out. Many die, and as soon as it is appropriate Helen and her brothers leave again – but not before Helen frees a slave, Milo, who joins them.

They then journey to Delphi to speak to the Oracle of Apollo. Helen is skeptical, and does not wish to speak to the Oracle. Instead, she chooses to spend the day in the market, where Milo helps her ditch the soldiers meant to guard to her. While she enjoys her new freedom, she comes across Theseus, who she met during the boar hunting. He tries to grab her, but is stopped by none other than the Oracle herself. The Oracle and Helen begin talking, and Helen finds a friend in Eunike, the Oracle. When Helen’s brothers wish to go off on another adventure, Eunike helps Helen enact a plan that allows her to escape her role as Lady Helen as follow them disguised as a boy. Everything goes according to plan, and Helen and Milo set off after her brothers a few days later.

Use of Myths:
Although proof of the Trojan War exists, Helen herself is generally considered a mythological character. Beyond that, Friesner uses the framework of the myths already established to tell her story. She addresses:
·      The idea that Helen’s “real” father is Zeus
·      The potential kidnapping of Helen by Theseus (she laid the groundwork for this to happen in the sequel)
·      The Oracle of Delphi
·      Fear of offending the gods

Feisner’s Helen defies the archetypal view of Helen the Great Beauty. Yes, as a child she is known for being exceptionally beautiful, but puberty does what it always does, and she becomes a gangly mess hoping to be beautiful again one day. She resists the traditional view of princess, and desperately wants to be free. As a whole, she is not the traditional Helen.

Helen’s focus on freedom has implications for the future beyond the book. The starcrossed lovers archetype includes idea that the fate has decided their love, and they have no choice about it. They lack any freedom in what will happen, which is Helen’s greatest fear in this novel.

Like Troy High and Starcrossed, Nobody’s Princess includes aspects of the Trojan War. This differs because it directly focuses on Helen herself. Troy High was the modern representation, and Starcrossed included a modern depiction of Helen. But Nobody’s Princess differs because it focuses on what so few books do – what happened before, way before, the Trojan War. Because Nobody’s Princess directly refers to events that formulate who Helen is, which affects the events in The Illiad and the Trojan War. One of the greatest debates about Helen is whether or not she willingly went with Paris. The Helen from this novel would choose going with Paris if it meant love and free choice.

Frisner’s novel is exciting and curious. You want to know what Helen will do that demonstrates the Helen of Troy we know from myths. The novel is fast-paced and well-written. It is a great read, especially for anyone who wishes that Helen had more say in her life or who disliked the idea that she was essentially stolen from her husband. 

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