Helen of Sparta
by Amalia Carosella
Lake Union Publishing
Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.
A new take on an ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is the story of one woman determined to decide her own fate.
Stars: 4.5 out of 5.0
Gut Feeling: 1.0
I have been quite lucky that, so far, the books I have reviewed have been so favorable and Helen of Sparta is no exception. Only recently published, Carosella’s debut novel is a hidden gem. Greek mythology tells us that before Helen’s face “launched 1,000 ships” to Troy, she was stolen away from her home in Sparta by another handsome royal, Theseus, the King of Attica and son of the sea-god Poseidon. But what if she wasn’t kidnapped? What if she actually chose to leave her childhood home to not only pursue love, but to protect her people? That is the premise of Carosella’s Helen of Sparta.
When I was younger, I read a lot of Greek mythology and, at one point, considered myself an expert. I must regretfully concede that Carosella is a true scholar on the subject, however. Carosella’s novel taught me so much more than I expected. The entire time I read Helen of Sparta, I felt like I shared a secret with Carosella. Whenever Helen encountered an important figure in mythology (and someone I recognized from my youthful jaunt through ancient Greek tales), even if she didn’t yet know their significance, I felt like the seer Cassandra. It made reading the book an adventure itself.
As you may already know, I appreciate beautiful writing, so long as it is not overly florid and overreaching. It was obvious that each word in Helen of Sparta was chosen with extreme care, each paragraph crafted just so, with a beautiful result. Rich and decadent, Helen of Sparta is a gorgeous addition to Greek myth and fiction in general. Beyond beautiful, her writing really brought the myth to life. I could almost taste the salty sea air and feel the rock of the ship as Helen travelled to Athens. Carosella is a wondrous writer and storyteller.
A key component of the plot differs greatly from traditional tellings of the mythology of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Because she chose to leave Sparta to save her people, she became a more admirable character than the one painted, traditionally, as an adulteress. For those of you not familiar with Greek mythology, I feel that Carosella’s novel is an excellent and exquisite starting point. It is informational as well as entertaining and she lays each aspect of the plot out in such a manner that there is no confusion. Unlike some re-tellings of ancient myth, Helen of Sparta is not esoteric in that it caters only to the well-versed mythologists.
My favorite aspect of the novel is the diversity of characterization. Helen, as I mentioned before, is portrayed in a kinder light: she disapproves of the effect her beauty has on others and she leaves her home by choice to save her people and prevent disaster. Strong-willed and intelligent, Carosella’s Helen is a far cry from the frivolous, passive character that many consider her to be. King Theseus is kind, courageous, and just, despite having endured so much hardship in his past. He treats Helen as far more than a pretty face, taking all of her concerns and worries seriously (unlike her family) and endangers his kingdom and life to help her do what she felt was right. And then there is Pirithous, the King of the Lapiths and great friend of Theseus. Pirithous, related to Helen through their father Zeus, is a dry-humored cad who I couldn’t help but love. He was a wonderful mixture of sarcastic and charming and provides a great foil character to both Helen and Theseus. Helen of Sparta is rife with many other characters, both loved and loathed. I, like many other readers, hold great disdain for both Agamemnon and Menelaus; both are chauvinistic prigs who are arrogant as they are blood-thirsty. All in all, I had no trouble sympathizing (even loving) some characters and despising others.
Toward the last third of the book, I felt there was a little drag in terms of time and plot development. I felt like I was just waiting for the ax to fall, both a favorable and unfavorable sentiment. That is the only reason this book received four and a half stars instead of the full five. I fully recommend this book to lovers of mythology and newcomers alike! One caveat though, there are some incidents in this novel that may be a little too dark for young readers. Still, it is a worthy book and stays true to the culture of ancient Greece.
Author Amalia Carosella is currently working on a sequel to Helen of Sparta. There is yet to be any information on publication, but once it has been released, you can find it here!
Amalia Carosella has her own website and blog, which can be found at http://amaliacarosella.com/