"Truly I have been Lucky in my Kings",
This review is from: Goddess of Yesterday: A Tale of Troy (Mass Market Paperback)
There is a huge range of novels out there concerning the Trojan War and the men and women whose lives were changed by the great event - so many books in fact, that it is difficult to find one that doesn't feel stale and predictable (after all, no author can really make shocking twists and turns in a war whose outcome is already known). Like books concerning the King Arthur legends, the Trojan War as a subject for a book is rapidly becoming dull.
So it is refreshing to find now and again a book that deals with this subject, and is actually *interesting*, suspenseful and surprisingly good. Such is Caroline B. Cooney's "Goddess of Yesterday". Although all of the mythological details and events of the War are correct (at least as far as I could see), the author brings new personalities to well-known characters, thoughtful insights on blasphemy and the nature of gods, and a likeable young heroine that blends so easily into the events leading up to the War that one might be surprised not to find her mentioned in ancient sources!
Anaxandra is the beloved daughter of a chieftain father in a small rocky isle, taken away from her home and family as a tribute/hostage of King Nicander, who places her in his own household as a companion to his own crippled daughter Princess Callisto. Despite homesickness, Anaxandra adjust to her new life, only to have it shattered once more by pirates who plunder Siphnos. Thanks to an ingenious disguise, Anaxandra is the sole survivor, and when the ship bearing King Menelaus pulls in to investigate, she lies to ensure her future: telling the King of Sparta that she is the Princess Callisto.
Under this new identity, she is taken to Sparta where she mingles with the family of the king: his beautiful but dangerous wife Helen, his cheerful daughter Hermione, his two elder sons, and baby Pleisthenes. It is there of course, that the inevitable happens: Prince Paris of Troy arrives in Sparta, and when Menelaus is called away to his grandfather's funeral, Paris and Helen set sail once more for Troy...taking baby Pleisthenes and Anaxandra (again under a false identity in a bid to save Hermione's life) with them...
When retelling such a well-known story, it is impossible to change important events in the tale (scholars would get too stroppy), but the personalities of the people involved are always up for grabs. Cooney creates an interesting version of Helen, as a painfully beautiful demi-goddess, utterly cruel, cold, manipulating, and revelling in the blood of the soldiers who die for her sake. It's a shocking change from the usual somewhat reluctant follower of Paris, who would walk the walls in agony over the deaths below her. Hector and Andromache's characterisations I am less fond of: he's too heavy-set and gruff, and she's too frivolous and giggly. Cassandra, however is captured perfectly as the hysterical, but beloved princess in the tower, and Cooney instigates a very clever plot-twist in the details of her curse (that her prophesies are never believed), that caught me completely off-guard!
There are a few details that bothered me: Anaxandra often beseeches the deity that gives name to the book: 'the goddess of yesterday', but who this figure actually is and how she fits into the pantheon of Greek gods remains unknown. The same complaint lies with the use of Medusa as a "good-luck charm", and did anyone else think that Anaxandra's romance with Euneas was a little abrupt? One horse ride and she's in love?
Furthermore, there are alot of plot threads left hanging - does Anaxandra meet up with Euneas again? Cassandra hints that her parents are still looking for her - so does she ever meet them again? Does she have her revenge on the pirates of the twisted fish? And for someone who knows absolutely nothing about the Trojan War, they will be left dangling with absolutely no information on what happens to any of the characters - Cooney ends the book, so to speak, just when it seems like it's beginning. An epilogue fills in these blanks, but I would have liked to hear it from Anaxandra's point of view (plus Cooney forgets to mentions that Aretha is eventually rescued by her grandsons after the sack of Troy).
But all in all, Caroline B. Cooney has written a clear, beautifully descriptive story of an engaging young woman caught up in events much larger than herself, as well as a reworking of the traditional myths, and a reasonably accurate depiction of ancient Greek life. In terms of novel based on this "Trojan genre", this one is one of the best.