I’ve had my copy of Esther M. Friesner’s Nobody’s Princess since last year but I haven’t had a chance to read it until recently, when I was craving for a story with a princess who gets to kick some serious butt. I have loved Greek mythology ever since I first discovered kiddie versions of the stories back when I was younger. In high school, we discussed Mythology by Edith Hamilton for English and we even put up a play of The Iliad during my senior year.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
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 Poseidon,” Theseus — but it’s also what 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 expected Nobody’s Princess to be YA historical fiction but it’s written more for middle grade or younger YA readers. I know I keep saying this for just about every book written for a younger audience that I read but I think I would’ve loved this as a child. I’ve always been interested in learning more about Helen of Troy (she’s still Helen of Sparta in this book) because there must be more to her than just a beautiful face. In this retelling, she’s a headstrong young girl who’s more interested in keeping up with her brothers in sword fights than joining her dainty twin sister Clytemnestra in sewing clothes. Helen’s a pretty child and she was surprised to discover that people tend to treat her better than her sister because of her looks. I liked that even as she found out about her beauty, she didn’t let it get to her head. She wasn’t a spoiled princess. As the years go by, she becomes a typical awkward adolescent and that’s fine by her. Beauty’s not much help in the adventures that she wants to face anyway.
I prefer Esther M. Friesner’s version of Helen because she’s a more fitting princess of Sparta, which is a nation of warriors, than the famed beauty that I remember from The Iliad. It seems like the author was inspired by Tamora Pierce’s Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series in the sense that Helen dresses up as a boy to tag along with her brothers’ lessons. Helen is determined to make her own choices in life and there are times when she tends to be reckless, heading straight into dangerous situations even when the people around her are doing their best to protect her. Good thing she’s a clever girl who always manages to find a way out of the scrapes that she gets into. I recommend this book to anyone who’s curious about historical fiction steeped with Greek mythology. I enjoyed reading this one even if it’s a bit young for my taste, I think I would’ve enjoyed reading about a teen Helen more. If you have other historical fiction recommendations, I’d love to hear them. I feel like I don’t get to read enough books like this.