Friday, 6 December 2019

Helen of Troy by: Margaret George

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology
Published: August 3, 2006 by: Viking Adult
Pages: 611
Rating: 4/5 stars

Helen is the most beautiful woman of the Mediterranean. Fathered by Zeus himself, Helen's divine beauty becomes a hot commodity, and eventually she is married off to Spartan king Menelaus. But, their relationship soon turns sour, and Helen finds herself enthralled by Paris, a young Trojan prince whose land has just aligned with Sparta. All alliances are off when Helen flees to Troy to be with Paris, and Menelaus and his ruthless brother Agamemnon launch a brutal 10 year war to get her back. Inspired by the infamous Iliad, Margaret George changes up the classic formula of the Trojan War, by having Helen narrate her own story.

If you know me, you know that I am a sucker for anything related to the Trojan War. I read the Iliad for fun. David Benioff's Troy is one of my biggest guilty pleasure movies. I know, I know, the movie kinda sucks. But, movie adaptations of the Trojan War are slim so I don't really have much to choose from. And we got Ned Stark as Odysseus, so it's still a decent movie in my book.

I will pick up any and every book having to do with the Trojan War. I saw this book at the library, and with a whopping 600 pages, I knew it would be just the thing to read over summer vacation. (Yes, I read this book in the summer and am only reviewing it now. Can you say, behind on reviews much?)

Anyways, I was not disappointed by this novel. I knew at some point I just had to read a retelling of the Trojan War through a woman's perspective, because a lot of the adaptations are pretty misogynistic. And who better to hear it from than Helen herself? I think George perfectly captured Helen's voice, and I was not disappointed by her characterization.

Helen's characterization was something I was a bit worried for. A lot of adaptations portray her as dull and naive, basically just a pretty face. I thought she had large levels of intelligence and rationality within this novel. The girl knows what she wants, and I could appreciate that. I found that in this novel, Paris was more of the naive one, which I loved because I have always pictured Paris as a really stupid guy.

I thought that this book was accurate to the classic depiction of the Trojan War, which I really loved. I don't like it when adaptations sensationalize the war, or give it a Hollywood-esque feel. There are still classical texts that should be followed as the basic guidelines for the story. I could tell that George did her research on this novel, and didn't just piece together what is commonly known about the Trojan War and call it a day. There was textual accuracy.

The one thing that I didn't love about this novel, is that it is extremely character driven. I mean, this is rightly so, because the novel is from the perspective of a character who did not directly fight in the war. It makes sense that the novel would be based more off of her life then in the direct action of the Trojan War. But I guess for me, I was expecting more allusions to the battle and the important figures in the battle. I would have liked to see more of Helen's opinions on important figures such as Odysseus, Patroclus, and Achilles. I f*cking love Achilles. (When I say this, I picture Achilles as the morally developed gay icon in Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles, not Brad Pitt's misogynistic adaptation in Troy).

I knew that this review would veer off track, because I get a little carried away when someone so much as mentions the Trojan War. I'm just a little passionate, ok? Anyways, bottom line is, I really loved the characterization of Helen and George's attention to detail. I didn't love how we didn't see as much of the battle, and I wanted the novel to have a better balance of character vs. plot. But, overall, I would call this retelling a win!

Have you read Helen of Troy? What did you think?

Emily @ Paperback Princess


  1. 'Can you say, behind on reviews much?' - Oh you sweet summer child *laughs hysterically*!

    I looooove how passionate you are about Troy and Greek myths and *makes vague hand motions* all that jazz! I've always figured that by the end of the war, Helen would've aged quite dramatically anyhow (not that that's a bad thing, but the so-called 'beauty' probably wouldn't have been what it once was!) Also, it's the goddesses and their beauty contest that are to blame for the whole mess, anyhow!

    1. Glad you find my passion admirable! My family, on the other hand, has referred to it as geeky. But, I don’t take that word as an insult!

      I think Helen aged gracefully, so to speak. However, I really hate it when people blame her for starting the war. She didn’t ask to be beautiful!! It was the gods’ fault for messing stuff up lol!

    2. Geeky and admirable aren't incompatible *nods sagely* ;)

  2. I reread the Odyssey this year for a Greek mythology class and I want to read SO many mythology retellings now. This book sounds so perfect and I am definitely adding it to my TBR. I read Circe earlier this year and absolutely loved it. I can never get enough of these stories. Awesome review!

    1. I could read Greek mythology all day and every day! Next on my list is The Silence of the Girls by: Pat Barker. Same idea with the Trojan war, from Trojan women’s perspectives!

  3. I'm not obsessed with it, but I am utterly fascinated by this period of history! Have you read A Thousand Ships? It's a retelling of the Trojan war from the perspectives of the women involved. I really enjoyed it and I think you might too.

    I love the sound of this story. I'll definitely keep an eye out for a copy :)

    1. I haven’t read that book! Thanks for the recommendation, Amy!