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Nobody's Princess

Review

Nobody's Princess

Probably all most of us know about the ancient figure of Helen of Troy is the famous quote about "the face that launched a thousand ships." In NOBODY'S PRINCESS, Esther Friesner, a prolific and well-respected fantasy writer, fearlessly takes on the formidable task of turning Helen into a flesh-and-blood girl, with her own hopes, dreams and ambitions.

In Friesner's take on ancient tales, Helen is a Bronze Age princess of the brave, warlike Spartan people. Destined to be queen (the Spartan succession was matrilineal) and told from an early age that her beauty far outshines that of her sister Clytemnestra, Helen is convinced that there must be more to life than spinning wool, weaving cloth and accepting the hand of a worthy suitor in marriage. In fact, even as a child, Helen exhibits the kind of fierce independence, stubbornness and bravery that will serve her well as queen.

As a young girl, Helen decides three things:

"Even if I was pretty, it wasn't going to be enough to bring me the life I wanted: one where I was free to make choices that mattered, one where people listened to what I had to say.

Aphrodite had the beauty; Zeus had the thunderbolts. Everyone loved Aphrodite, but everyone listened to Zeus.

I'd never get my hands on a thunderbolt, so if I wanted to be free, I'd better find a way to get my hands on the next best thing: a sword."

Through the rest of Friesner's novel, Helen sets out to accomplish these goals. From teaching herself to run as swiftly as a rabbit to obtaining secret sword lessons to receiving hunting training from her mother, Helen is determined to be no ordinary princess. Soon she is using her new skills (combined with her strong heritage and her intrinsic tenacity) to reshape her world as she sees fit, regardless of what her society might say. Her strong personality continues to grow and take shape right up to the abrupt ending. But stay tuned, since the sequel, NOBODY'S PRIZE, is due to be published in 2008.

In her extensive author's note, Friesner reveals how much of her novel is based on preexisting sources. The answer? Not much, since Helen is rarely mentioned in literature outside of THE ILIAD and a handful of other apocryphal tales, and virtually nothing is known of her early life. This gives Friesner a nearly-blank slate in which to set her tale. That being said, however, the author does ground her story in ancient history, introducing actual customs, details of daily life and political struggles into her narrative.

Helen's story is so compelling that readers will find themselves rethinking her long-held image as merely a beautiful woman and a passive prize of the Trojan War. Instead, in Friesner's exhilarating, thought-provoking retelling, Helen proves that beauty is far more than just skin deep.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

Nobody's Princess
by Esther Friesner

  • Publication Date: April 24, 2007
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 037587528X
  • ISBN-13: 9780375875281