Archive for ‘YA novels’

July 21, 2017

Mini-Reviews #3

Torn from TroyPatrick Bowman: Torn from Troy

YA Novel
Pages: 199
First Published: 2011

My Thoughts: Torn from Troy, the first book in the Odyssey of a Slave trilogy, tells the story of Alexi, a poor Trojan orphan. When Troy falls, Alexi is taken as a slave, accompanying Odysseus and his crew through the events of the Odyssey.

The main thing that stood out to me when I read this book was Bowman’s depiction of Troy at war. Not only is this book not at all about the Trojan royal family (only Cassandra – here called “Cassie” for some reason – puts in a brief appearance), but Bowman commits to writing his protagonist as a poor boy who’s lived nearly his whole life in a city under siege. The casual tone Alexi uses to talk about the terrible things he’s witnessed makes sense for the character in a way that I was absolutely not expecting from a book I found in the children’s section, so praise for that. The bruality of Alexi’s world continues after he’s taken as a slave by Odysseus – here called “Lopex” for some reason – although apart from that, there aren’t too many surprises in the narrative.

When I finished Torn from Troy, I figured I would continue with the trilogy, and so I read the first several chapters of the second book, Cursed by the Sea God. Unfortunately, this is where the trilogy fell apart for me. I have a pretty strong dislike for stories where the characters travel from one place to another, only spending enough time to get a superficial understanding of each one-dimensional place before moving on. (Is there a name for this kind of story? Let me know because I have no idea what to call it.) The story of Odysseus’s return home does more or less fit into this category, but the Odyssey plays enough with its structure and has enough other things going on that I think it’s one of the best examples of it.

In the first few chapters of Cursed by the Sea God, however, Bowman’s Odyssey retelling becomes everything I dislike about these travel stories. The characters arrive on Aeolia, an island with a dangerous secret! Well don’t worry, because it only takes Alexi about fifteen minutes to discover the secret and solve the problem. The solution is extremely simple and one of the first things you would think to try, and yet the people of Aeolia have suffered from this problem for years. Thank goodness Alexi came along and was able to solve it with the information he spent five minutes gathering.

This kind of story can work when you’re talking about heroes in mythology, but as a section in a trilogy that until that point had made an effort to be a realistic portrayal of the life of a slave in antiquity, it was very disappointing. There was no depth or complexity to the Aeolia chapters and it took me out of the story completely. But if you’re a fan of this kind of travel story – or if you’re in this trilogy’s target demographic – you’ll probably enjoy Odyssey of a Slave more than I did.

Buy it at:,


Shin Toroia MonogatariTakashi Atoda: Shin Toroia Monogatari

Japanese Title: 新トロイア物語
Pages: 689
First Published: 1997

My Thoughts: (I admit it’s a bit weird to post about a Japanese novel on an English language blog when that novel has not been translated into English. Read on if you’d like a glimpse inside this retelling from another part of the world …)

Shin Toroia Monogatari – the title can be parsed as either The New Story of Troy or The Story of New Troy – follows Aeneas from his childhood to his death, covering both the events of the Trojan War and the quest to build a new Troy. For the longest time, the uninspired cover image, the dry lecture of an opening paragraph, and my mistaken belief that Atoda usually wrote non-fiction had me believing that this novel would be little more than a by-the-book retelling of the Trojan War myth. Now that I’ve finally gotten my Japanese to a level where I was able to read the whole thing (with a dictionary to help me here and there), I was happy to discover how wrong I was. Atoda plays with the story plenty, and for the most part this book was a really surprising, really interesting read.

There are light SPOILERS in the paragraphs below!

My favourite thing about this book, believe it or not, is its Paris. Paris is not usually one of my favourite characters, but I loved him here. His decade-long absence from Troy is made into something of a mystery – did Priam send him away as punishment for something, or did he leave because he wanted to? – so that you’re not quite sure what to make of him when he reappears. And he’s a bit of a jerk at first, flat-out telling a young Aeneas that Aphrodite has only been declared Aeneas’s mother because Aeneas’s father paid the oracle to say so. But as soon as I got to the brutally honest ramble in which he lists all his flaws and compares them to Hector’s virtues, making Aeneas promise that he’ll choose Hector if he ever has to choose between the two of them, I was sold. This Paris is just as imperfect as he usually is, but just having him be aware of it and honest about it really endeared me to him.

I also really liked this book’s version of the death of Achilles. Achilles is killed in the night, and Aeneas has every reason to believe that Paris did it as revenge for Hector’s death. But when Aeneas goes to ask Paris about it, Paris laughs it off as the work of the gods. His refusal to take credit for the best thing he ever does for his city – for the brother he knew was the better person – is excellent, I love it. New favourite Paris.

My second favourite thing about this book will come as no surprise: I really enjoyed the scene where Aeneas visits Helenus and Andromache after the war. The way their excitement at seeing each other again transitions into tension between Aeneas, who believes Helenus is duty-bound to go with him to rebuild Troy, and Helenus, who has put Troy behind him and started a new life, is fantastic. I love how Aeneas seems to think that “You’re a prince of Troy” is the only reason Helenus should need for joining Aeneas on his journey, and how he never seems to fully understand why Helenus turns him down.

Unfortunately, after Aeneas and Helenus parted ways, my enjoyment of the book slowly but steadily declined, to the point where I had to force myself through the last hundred pages. I think the main reason for this is that Atoda’s Aeneas is a pretty empty character. He is “pious Aeneas” but not much else. During the first half of the book, where he acts as our viewpoint character for the events in Troy, he reacts so little to what happens around him that I often forgot he was there. On top of that, it really feels like all of the potentially interesting challenges Aeneas encounters are quickly wrapped up with an “Ah well, I’m sure I did the right thing.” As the story goes on and the more interesting characters are left behind, we enter Atoda’s version of the Latium conflict, where all of the new characters are either completely good or completely evil. It doesn’t help that everyone in this section speaks in such overly polite language that the scene in which Aeneas confesses his love to Lavinia felt to me like some kind of parody. I’ve read a few Japanese reviews of this book and none of them have mentioned this section at all, so it may very well be that it didn’t work for me because I’m not a member of the culture that it was written for – in the author’s note, Atoda does admit that he feels his Aeneas is a modern Japanese man dropped into the ancient world – but I found it pretty tough to get through. (Not that that stopped me from tearing up a little when the last pages of the book started echoing the first pages of the book …)

Although the last hundred pages did diminish my enthusiasm for Shin Toroia Monogatari, overall I did really enjoy it and all the surprises it offered. So far it’s the only Japanese retelling of the Trojan War I’ve found that allows its author some creative license. I’ll keep my eye out for another.

Buy it at:, BookLive (where you can also preview the first fourteen pages in your browser)

August 4, 2014

Clemence McLaren: “Inside the Walls of Troy”

Inside the Walls of Troy  Inside the Walls of Troy

We had accumulated six years of memories, Helen and I – of teaching each other our languages and laughing at the mistakes, of sharing patterns at the loom and and playing knucklebones with Laodice and Polyxena during the long afternoons. I still found such women’s games pointless. But I loved to listen to Helen’s stories, to hear her laughter. Even as angry as I was, I knew how I would miss her.

YA Novel
Pages: 199
First Published: 1996

Synopsis: Helen is renowned as the most beautiful woman in the world. Her divine beauty will lead her to a lifetime of adventure – from being kidnapped at age twelve, through her arranged marriage, to a passionate affair that will ultimately bring about the Trojan War.

Cassandra, the sister of Helen’s true love, has the gift, or curse, of predicting the future. When she foresees the ruin of her family and city, caused by Helen’s arrival in Troy, she is outraged. Yet Cassandra cannot help being drawn to Helen, and as the war rages around them, the two young women develop a deep friendship.

Through their eyes, the classic tale of the Trojan War and its mythic cast of heroes is romantically, grippingly told.

“Crazy woman!” he screamed. “How long must we endure your ravings? You would destroy a gift from the immortals?”
“You’re eating your last food!” I shouted back. “You’re already starting down a road used by ghosts.”

My Thoughts: Here it is, my friends. The entire reason I am a Trojan War fangirl. I bought this book when I was thirteen because I was surprised to see a novel about something we’d (briefly) talked about in my seventh grade social studies class. I read it in one day while I was home sick from school, and then I was awake half the night just thinking about it. Within a year, I had read at least four more books about the Trojan War and was pretty well hooked.

Fourteen years have passed since then, and while this book has always had pride of place as the book that started my interest in the Trojan War (and Greek mythology in general), I had never reread it. Now that I’m trying to (re)read and post about all of the Trojan War books I own (instead of buying new ones all the time as is my wont), I decided that it was time.

I guess it’s probably a good thing that my tastes have changed since I was thirteen, is the roundabout way I will begin this review. Let’s start with the positives. I like that it passes the Bechdel Test within the first two pages. I like its portrayal of Theseus, although he’s very much the sort of Theseus that could only exist in YA. This might be the only novel I’ve read so far where Polyxena and Helenus get to fulfill their roles as major influences on the course of the war, which is awesome, although I didn’t love how those storylines were handled. And in retrospect, I’m glad that the first Trojan War novel I read follows the mythology and the Iliad so closely; in that way at least, it’s a good introduction to the story.

Unfortunately, although all the important parts of the story are there, the novel suffers quite a bit from being so short. It covers thirteen years in less than two hundred pages, and only eighty of those pages are dedicated to the war from the arrival of the Greeks to the fall. The narration rushes from one event to the next and even major characters feel underdeveloped. My biggest complaint is about Paris. The book is narrated in the first person, with Helen narrating the first sixty-five pages and Cassandra the rest. Unfortunately, we barely see Paris from Helen’s point of view before we spend the rest of the book seeing him from Cassandra’s. Cassandra openly dislikes him, disapproves of his actions, and refers to him as “mean-spirited.” It’s frustrating to me that the book’s first narrator falls in love with someone we only see in a negative light. Even Helen speaks ill of him, as she does in the Iliad, and worse than that, she’s “afraid to be alone with him”! But we’re supposed to believe they’re in love? The only reasons given for their being together are a) Aphrodite decided they would be (but whether this book considers the gods to exist or not is unclear), and b) they look alike (I’m not joking). Maybe I wouldn’t be so bothered by all of this except that I’m tired of YA novels that try to convince us that their terrible relationships are beautiful and romantic.

Perhaps also due to the short length of the book, the worldbuilding is very sparse. The author’s note seems to indicate that McLaren did her research, but all that shows on the page is what the average person might know about the ancient world. Wine! Kohl! Spears! The geography is also very vague and there are whole scenes where we aren’t told where the characters are, which makes things hard to picture.

Another thing that struck me as weird comes when (SPOILERS??) Cassandra learns that Agamemnon has claimed her as his war prize:

“You’ve never even noticed him fighting his duels right below the gate where you stood,” Helenus was saying … “He’s been trying to get your attention for years.”

McLaren has just reduced the horror of Agamemnon taking Cassandra as his slave to Agamemnon trying out for the football team so that Cassandra will notice him.

So clearly I’m no longer as completely taken with Inside the Walls of Troy as I was when I was thirteen, but I think I’m okay with that. I will forever be grateful to this book for introducing me to the Trojan War, and I’ll be happy to pass it on in the hope that it will have a similar effect on another reader’s life.

Buy it at:,

“Listen, girl, Menelaus will be an impeccable husband. He’s a good man, if somewhat lacking in imagination, and he loves you more than he should.” Theseus reached for my hands. “Here is the last piece of advice I’ll ever give you: Be satisfied with what you’ve got.”

June 8, 2014

Josephine Angelini: “Goddess”

Goddess  Goddess

YA Novel
Pages: 421
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Can you change your fate?

The gods’ thirst for war already has a body count – and Helen is plagued with visions of destruction. She must find a way to imprison them once again, or risk unleashing immeasurable chaos.

Her powers are increasing – and so is the distance between Helen and her mortal friends. Uncertain whether to fear or revere her, the once-solid group divides.

To make matters worse, the Oracle reveals that a dangerous Tyrant is lurking among them … and all fingers point to Orion. Still unsure whether she loves him or Lucas, Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision, for an all-out war is coming to her shores.

Starcrossed and Dreamless are international bestsellers. Now Josephine Angelini delivers a thrilling conclusion to this epic trilogy of love, hate, revenge, and fate. With worlds built just as quickly as they crumble, a goddess must rise above it all in a final battle to change a destiny written in the stars.

My Spoiler-Free Thoughts: Goddess is the third novel in the Starcrossed trilogy, which I’ve been reviewing here because it kind of sort of uses the story of the Trojan War as a base from which to launch its own story. When I read Starcrossed, the first book, I was baffled by its popularity but kind of amused by all its blatant similarities to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I thought the second book, Dreamless, was more original and more interesting, but I was frustrated by Lucas’s violent treatment of Helen as well as by the fact that most of the story only happens because of a lie that the readers know is a lie. Reading Goddess, I think I passed through bafflement and frustration and reached a point where this series genuinely makes me angry. Because … it’s terrible.

As usual, I must confess that there were a few things I liked, and here they are: Matt’s first few scenes. Morpheus’s two appearances. Some of the more fantastical settings that ensure that, if the rumoured movies do get made, they should at least be nice to look at. And … that’s about it.

This book reads like a hastily written first draft. Every action and every line of dialogue is overexplained; like both books before it, cutting out all the unnecessary exposition would make the book at least a hundred pages shorter. Plot threads are left half-finished. The main characters are unlikeable. There are too many characters who contribute nothing to the plot. Important scenes focus on characters the readers barely know and don’t care about. None of the main characters ever face any real risk or consequence. The original mythology is simultaneously vague and overcomplicated. The Greek mythology is changed so much that I’m not sure why it was used. The tone and register are all over the place. Characters frequently do things they were adamantly opposed to doing no more than a chapter before, with no reason given as to why they changed their mind. Characters develop powers out of the blue and then never use them. The narration awkwardly jumps from the mind of one character to the mind of another for no good reason. And – my least favourite point of all – an abusive relationship is portrayed as the truest of true loves.

There are some good ideas buried below all the first draftiness of this book, and a ruthless edit and rewrite could have improved it immensely. I have no idea why this series didn’t receive that treatment – surely this book had an editor, right? what did she even do? fix typos?? – but the fact seems to be that it didn’t. As it is, then, I don’t recommend Goddess or either of its predecessors at all.

My SPOILERIFFIC!! Thoughts: Let’s explore some of my above criticisms through examples from the text.

read more »

January 10, 2013

Adèle Geras: “Troy”


When Hector died, Andromache thought, I didn’t know there could be a greater pain, but now I know why the Gods made him suffer like that, and made me suffer for him. It was a rehearsal.

YA Novel
Pages: 358
First Published: 2000

Synopsis: The grimmest of wars is about to get worse.

The siege of Troy has lasted almost ten years.

Inside the walled city, food is scarce and death is common. From the heights of Mount Olympus, the Gods keep watch.

But Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, is bored with the endless, dreary war, and so she turns her attention to two sisters: Marpessa, who serves as handmaiden to Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world; and Xanthe, who tends the wounded soldiers in the Blood Room. When Eros fits an arrow to his silver-lit bow and lets it fly, neither sister will escape its power.

Agamemnon, commander of all the Greeks, watched his army scattering through the streets of Troy like cockroaches overrunning a house, scuttling into corners and hiding in the crevices of the stones. He made his way up the hill, toward Pallas Athene’s temple, and as he went, the tall black figure of Ares, the God of War, walked in his footsteps. Many saw him and not one of them realized who it was they were looking at. He moved through the city like a shadow among many shadows. He was everywhere, standing behind every man who carried a weapon in his hand.

My Thoughts: Two things: 1) This book has nothing to do with the 2004 movie Troy. 2) I have no idea why this is considered a YA novel.

I’m going to start with my criticisms of the book, which unfortunately are many.

· I will totally admit that I am super picky about dialogue. If I think a novel’s dialogue is unrealistic, it will drive me crazy the entire way through. And wow is Troy’s dialogue unrealistic. Characters often speak in full paragraphs that don’t even flow logically. Their emotions jump around from one line to the next. They clumsily deliver information that has nothing to do with what they’re talking about and should either have been provided by the narration or left out entirely. Achilles’ death scene reads like a joke, and part of the reason is that his dialogue in it is a disaster:

“Can you see me, Trojan Paris?” Achilles shouted. “Apollo’s rays are blinding you, that’s clear. I’m not hanging around down here for prophecies to come true, either. What chance do you reckon you’ve got of hitting a moving target? No chance at all. And even if you do hit me, don’t you know I’m protected?”

Yep, that’s an entire paragraph that Achilles shouts up to the top of the walls. While his chariot is moving.

Not a page later, we get:

“Bastard!” Achilles’ dying cry bubbled from his mouth as his body twisted itself into a knot of pain. “You have fulfilled the prophecy and killed me, but I can still …”

Seriously. What.

It could totally be that Geras was going for some stylistic characters-speak-in-paragraphs-and-tell-you-when-they’ve-been-slain thing that’s gone over my head, but until I find an interview in which she says as much, I’m afraid I just have to label this as terrible dialogue.

· One of the main characters is named Polyxena. When we first meet her, she complains about having the same name as one of the princesses of Troy, which seems like an odd thing to complain about when you finish the book and realize that, in its world, the princess Polyxena doesn’t actually seem to exist; the only daughter of Priam who appears in this book is Cassandra. Now, there are two events in the myth of the Trojan War that (potentially) involve the princess Polyxena. Occasionally, she is involved in the plot to kill Achilles. More often, she is killed during the fall of Troy. At both of these points in the novel, Geras gives herself an opening to do something interesting – some sort of plot twist in which the Polyxena involved in these events is not the princess, but this original character. Neither time does she take it. I don’t even know why Geras has her Polyxena accompany Priam to Achilles’ tent if she wasn’t going to do anything with it.

· Geras’ gods had so much potential. Their sudden appearances in dark corners of rooms, their no-nonsense attitudes, the way they disappear into mist, and the way the mortals who see them immediately forget them – these traits are really cool and a little creepy. Unfortunately, the effect is lost as soon as they open their mouths. Poseidon appears just to tell us that the man wearing Achilles’ armour isn’t Achilles. Apollo appears just to tell us that the Greeks haven’t actually left. As the gods’ words have no effect on the actions of the mortal characters – who never even remember them – it’s like the only purpose of the gods’ dialogue is to rob the following scenes of any suspense they might have had for the reader.

· We are told many times that Troy is in a desperate situation, that the city is running out of food and that its people are dying both in the city and on the battlefield, but this often contradicts what we are actually shown. It seems like everyone in the city has a secret stash of food and drink and no one who lives outside the walls seems to be suffering at all. Meanwhile, both Paris and boring love interest Alastor are able to avoid combat for little reason and without comment. Which I guess makes sense when you realize that apparently so few soldiers are being wounded that only one room is needed to tend to them. Then, less than a day after the Trojans discover the Greek ships have gone, they’re able to go out and gather enough food for a royal feast. The beginning of this book had me looking forward to an intense depiction of a city on the brink of starvation, of young characters who had spent almost their entire lives with enemy soldiers trapping them inside their walls. But the farther into the book I got, the less desperate the whole situation felt.

· For me, Paris was one of the highlights of this book, because he was a rare example of Geras getting creative with an aspect of the Trojan War myth. A Paris who is not entirely satisfied with his marriage to Helen – that’s awesome! I’d never seen him portrayed like that before! And when characters started mentioning Oenone, I got rather excited. Oenone is rarely used in Trojan War novels, but I find her story really interesting and I think there are a lot of things an author can do with it. Unfortunately I HATE how Geras handled it. It begins in the usual fashion, with whispers that Paris had a wife whom he abandoned when he met Helen. On page 211, the son of Paris and Oenone appears (and asks to see Helen only to tell her he actually wants to see Paris, seriously Geras get your dialogue under control) and doesn’t last two pages before Paris kills him. Fifteen pages later, a dying Paris is taken to Oenone, who refuses to heal him. Aphrodite fills us in:

“I was there, you know. When they carried Paris up the mountain to her cave, or grotto, or whatever she calls it. He was half dead. She came out looking smug, and what did she say? I’ll tell you. She said: You left me for Helen, even though I loved you. Now go to your Helen, and see how much use she is to you. I won’t save you. What a bitch! She could have brought him back to life and chose not to.”

Okay, wait. What is even happening here? Does Oenone not know that Paris killed her son?? What was the point of the son’s appearance in the story if it didn’t affect anything that happened afterward? How could it possibly not even be mentioned in this scene?! Why does Oenone say “I won’t heal you because you left me for Helen” and not “I won’t heal you because you killed my son”?? And on top of all that, where does Aphrodite get off dismissing Oenone as “a bitch” when Paris’s leaving her was Aphrodite’s fault??? Did Dan Simmons write that line? Geras takes a character who I think adds a really interesting layer to the myth, strips her storyline down to its bare minimum, never allows her onscreen, introduces her son, immediately forgets about him, and then has both Aphrodite and Helen label her a “bitch.” I have so many problems with this I can’t even wrap my brain around it.

· The above point, the novel’s less than subtle pro-life messages and the way that every male character who cries is referred to as “womanish” make me really confused as to why this Publisher’s Weekly review claims that Geras “recreates the saga of the Trojan War from a feminist perspective.” From a woman’s perspective, perhaps, but not so much from a feminist perspective. Seriously, this is a myth that begins with a queen sending her newborn son away to be killed, apparently without any sort of criticism. So why would a citizen of that queen’s city believe that the gods will punish her if she has an abortion?

· You perhaps have already gathered that a major problem I had with this book is that it presents so few new ideas. I love the Trojan War myth to death, obviously, but the reason I read novels based on it is because I want to see new takes on it. I want to see characters reimagined, I want to see events from different perspectives. With the exception of Paris, in Troy I didn’t feel that any of the myth’s characters had been changed or added to. They all hit their marks exactly as they do in the mythology, with no new insight into their actions. I would be completely fine with this if Geras’ original characters were interesting enough to compensate, but they’re not. They seem like perfectly nice people, but not exactly compelling. By the way, not gonna lie, I would love to read a Trojan War novel told from the point of view of regular Trojan citizens who have nothing to do with the royal family. Too bad for me, Troy is not that novel.

· Another recurring issue I had is the way that Geras introduces characters or storylines that she never returns to. One example is Oenone’s son; another is the Luck of Troy. In a conversation about how the statue has been stolen, the characters speculate that Helen has a romantic relationship with Odysseus that would lead her to help him steal it. Is it true? I don’t know! None of this is mentioned again. I got the feeling that Geras wanted to include as many aspects of the mythology as she could, but couldn’t or didn’t want to actually flesh them out into something that would be interesting and have an effect on the rest of the story. What especially frustrated me about the Luck of Troy example is that the “the Luck has been stolen from the temple, perhaps with Helen’s help” conversation comes directly after a scene in which a character who works for Helen is seen running away from the temple. But of course, those two scenes have nothing to do with each other. Geras constantly comes so, so, so close to doing something interesting with the story, and for whatever reason she just … doesn’t.

· Things I liked: Paris (before Oenone). The gods (when not speaking). The relationships between Helen and the other royal women. The relationships between the royal women and their servants. The line “Polyxena had sat in King Priam’s halls long enough to recognize adoration when she saw it.” The brief but hopeful scenes where the people of Troy are able to walk across the plain to the sea for the first time in ten years. Helen’s lack of fear during the city’s fall. The portrayal of Andromache’s grief often felt like too much to me, especially in a book where the reader only gets three scenes’ worth of Hector, but her subtler moments were pretty heartbreaking. The descriptions of the burning city were well done (… pun?) and I enjoyed the way it took characters longer to notice the fire depending on where they were and what they were doing – a nice change of pace from the tired ~everyone notices the fire at once~ montage. Boros has a shift in his character near the end which could have been quite interesting had we seen more of it. Astyanax … oh my goodness. His final scenes were heartwrenching. Easily the most emotional scene of the book is the one in which we see a Greek soldier’s immediate reaction to the baby’s death. And Xanthe’s reaction was stylistically the most interesting page.

I have probably made Troy sound like the worst novel ever. It isn’t. But it is far from the best, and the story of the Trojan War deserves better. To be completely honest, I was actually frustrated to learn that Geras has also written an Odyssey-inspired Ithaka and an Aeneid-inspired Dido. While I can’t say I’ll never read them, you won’t see me rushing out to get them.

Buy it at:,

Helen continued. “I don’t really care anymore. Isn’t that dreadful? My love, this love that has nearly drowned the city in blood, is fading. It’s nearly gone. There are times when he sets my flesh on fire … Forgive me for speaking so frankly … And then it’s like it was at the beginning, but more and more often I look at him and think: Is this what I left my country for?”

September 28, 2012

Josephine Angelini: “Dreamless”

Dreamless  Dreamless

“Want to fight me, foolish Sky Hunter? Caution! I invented war. War, little beauties, I invented it.”

YA Novel
Pages: 496
First Published: 2012

Synopsis: Can true love be forgotten?

As the only Scion who can descend into the Underworld, Helen Hamilton has been given a nearly impossible task. By night she wanders through Hades, trying to stop the endless cycle of revenge that has cursed her family. By day she struggles to overcome the fatigue that is rapidly eroding her sanity. Without Lucas by her side, Helen is not sure she has the strength to go on.

Just as Helen is pushed to her breaking point, a mysterious new Scion comes to her rescue. Funny and brave, Orion shields her from the dangers of the Underworld. But time is running out – a ruthless foe plots against them, and the Furies’ cry for blood is growing louder.

As the ancient Greek world collides with the mortal one, Helen’s sheltered life on Nantucket descends into chaos. But the hardest task of all will be forgetting Lucas Delos.

Josephine Angelini’s compelling saga becomes ever more intricate and spellbinding as an unforgettable love triangle emerges and the eternal cycle of revenge intensifies. Eagerly awaited, this sequel to the internationally bestselling Starcrossed delivers a gritty, action-packed love story that exceeds all expectations.

My Thoughts: So I hope you guys aren’t trying to avoid reading spoilers for this book, because this entry is full of them.

To start, I liked Dreamless rather better than Starcrossed. Helen’s nightmare trips to the Underworld were my favourite parts of the first book, and I was stoked to see them featured prominently in the sequel. Angelini’s writing is never beautiful, but it’s much better in the Underworld sequences than anywhere else, and her creativity is put to better use. There’s an early scene I enjoyed where Helen finds herself trapped in a dusty old house with no exit, and it was good and creepy. Another thing that was expanded to good effect here is the fighting between Lucas and Hector; it was also given more emotional weight. And I can even say that I liked most of the new characters, the easily likeable Orion and the sadistic and creepy Ares especially. The sequence that features Ares’ first appearance is easily my favourite of the series so far.


Dreamless has fewer similarities with Twilight than its predecessor, but it is still most definitely this series’ New Moon, in that the super perfect love interest breaks up with the protagonist and a new guy steps in to start a poorly handled love triangle. Is it weird that I feel I have to give Dreamless some sort of credit for allowing its protagonist to continue on with her life instead of sinking into a horrible, months-long depression upon learning that it’s over? Unfortunately, New Moon might still win this round, because where Edward gives a reason for the break-up, Lucas just starts yelling at Helen (at what must seem to her like) out of the blue. They still have to see each other to discuss Helen’s quest, so he spends most of the book trying to push her away by doing such things as knocking her (and his cousins) off a bench and onto the floor, screaming at her that she doesn’t “have the RIGHT to sit next to” him, hitting his father and injuring his mother in front of her, using his demigod power of flight to carry her up so high above the earth that she can barely breathe, and throwing her to the ground so hard that “she cried out as she twisted her wrist.” Oh, and he’s still following her and sneaking into her house at night without her knowledge. The entire time, the audience is told that he loves her and is acting this way for her supposed benefit, but if you think that makes it okay I am going to have to strongly disagree. NONE OF THIS BEHAVIOUR IS OKAY. The fact that Helen unquestioningly takes him back without ever even commenting on his actions is, to put it mildly, extremely frustrating. That the third book will undoubtedly feature a love triangle is absurd. Still, I will be surprised if the story isn’t set up so that Helen has to make a choice between Lucas, who’s hurt her – on purpose – both physically and emotionally, and Orion, who … has not. And, with Lucas as the Paris character and Orion as the Aeneas character, I will also be surprised if she doesn’t choose Lucas, although it will be AWFUL when she does.

The cherry on the top of all this is the reason why Lucas pushes Helen away. In Starcrossed, we are told that Lucas and Helen can’t be together because it would unite their demigod families, thus breaking a truce with the gods and starting a new Trojan War. Okay, cool. That’s a pretty good reason to avoid a relationship. Later in the book we learn that this doesn’t apply to their current situation, BUT they still can’t be together because Helen has been told that Lucas’ uncle Ajax is her real father, making them first cousins, and the children born to demigod cousins always go insane. (The example given for this is “Oedipus’s daughter, Electra,” leading me to believe that the characters are lying every time they claim to have read the Oresteia.) The huge problem I have with this is that the audience knows that it’s a lie. It is mentioned multiple times throughout Starcrossed that Helen is seventeen and her supposed father died nineteen years ago. And just in case you didn’t realize for yourself that Ajax can’t be Helen’s father, a character says it out loud. And just in case you missed it there, in Dreamless Helen’s mother tells us again. A full half of the plot of this book is based on a lie that the audience knows is a lie, and the only thing stopping the characters from figuring out that it’s a lie is that, despite all the angsting they do over Helen and Lucas being cousins, not a single one of them has taken a second to subtract seventeen from nineteen. It’s completely ridiculous, and the idea that anyone involved with this series could think it makes for suspenseful reading actually makes me a little angry.

And now, a selection of passages I hated.

Claire … undid the misaligned buttons on Helen’s pesky jacket and then redid them correctly. “You look like a dyslexic five-year-old.”

Apparently dyslexia affects your ability to dress yourself now?

For the first time Helen could remember, Castor used an English curse word, and a foul one at that …

“Foul curse” is what Angelini uses in place of anything more offensive than “damn.” Every time someone swears in this series I feel like they’re putting a hex on someone.

“Claire and I didn’t join PETA’s most wanted list for nothing, you know.”

A Myrmidon is stalking Helen. They refer to it as her “ant problem.” And … PETA keeps a list of people who have killed ants?? Get it???

“And we should know [the number of people who’ve walked on the moon]! We’re Americans!”
“Well, officially I’m Canadian.”
“Close enough!” Helen said, waving an enthusiastic hand in the air.

Orion is Canadian and this Canadian blogger was down with that until this happened. HELEN HAMILTON CARES NOT ABOUT YOUR ACTUAL NATIONALITY

“You know what, Matt? You’re becoming quite a badass.”

You keep using that word.

Pumpkin pancakes were a favorite of Jerry’s and Helen’s, but around Halloween, which was only about a week and a half away, anything with pumpkin in it was on the menu. It was sort of a competition between the two of them. It started with roasted pumpkin seeds and went all the way to soups and gnocchi. Whoever found a way to sneak pumpkin into a dish without getting caught was the winner.
The whole pumpkin thing had started when Helen was a little girl. One October she’d complained to her dad that pumpkins only got used as decoration, and although she loved jack-o’-lanterns, it was still a big waste of food. Jerry had agreed, and the two of them resolved to start eating pumpkins instead of just carving them up and then throwing them out.
Unfortunately, they found that pumpkins on their own are so bland they’re practically inedible. If they hadn’t gotten creative with the cooking, they would have given up on their Save the Pumpkins crusade after the first year.
There were a lot of nauseating creations, of which the pumpkin popsicles were by far the worst, but the pancakes stood out as the biggest success. They instantly became as large a part of the Hamilton family tradition in October as turkey was on Thanksgiving.


There is more that I might say about this book, but it’s easier for me just to tell you that I don’t recommend it.

And now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go find a book that recognizes the value of a beautiful line of prose.

Buy it at:,

Hell didn’t need lakes of fire to torment.
Time and solitude were enough.

September 17, 2012

Josephine Angelini: “Starcrossed”

Starcrossed  Starcrossed

Cassandra’s demeanor suddenly changed. She went from being the dark, fiery messenger of the Fates to being a very vulnerable teenager.
“I saw something, Helen,” she said desperately. “Then I saw it again, and again. I’ve been so ashamed and frightened that I haven’t told anyone else what I saw. And I am so sorry if I’m wrong – for all of our sakes. But I have to do this … because … this is what comes next.”

YA Novel
Pages: 488
First Published: 2011

Synopsis: How do you defy destiny?

Helen Hamilton has spent her entire sixteen years trying to hide how different she is — no easy task on an island as small and sheltered as Nantucket. And it’s getting harder. Nightmares of a desperate desert journey have Helen waking parched, only to find her sheets damaged by dirt and dust. At school she’s haunted by hallucinations of three women weeping tears of blood … and when Helen first crosses paths with Lucas Delos, she has no way of knowing they’re destined to play the leading roles in a tragedy the Fates insist on repeating throughout history.

As Helen unlocks the secrets of her ancestry, she realizes that some myths are more than just legend. But even demigod powers might not be enough to defy the forces that are both drawing her and Lucas together — and trying to tear them apart.

“Of course I care for you,” he said intently. “The only thing I wouldn’t do to be with you is cause innocent people to die. And that’s pretty much it.” He moved on to his back again, jabbing a hand in his hair. “But apparently that’s enough.”

My Thoughts: First, I should probably note that this is a Trojan War novel in pretty much the same way that Harry Potter bringing back Cedric’s body in Goblet of Fire is a reference to the ransom of Hector, but the only reason I forced my way through this book was so I could review it and so review it I shall.

Second, I know I already talk about Twilight too much on this blog, and I’m sure that I’m far from the first person to notice this, but oh my goodness is Starcrossed basically Twilight. Look at how absurdly easy it is to write a summary of both books at once (with a little bit of New Moon and Breaking Dawn thrown in for good measure):

A socially awkward American high schooler living with her single dad becomes suspicious of the ridiculously wealthy and ridiculously good looking family that has moved to her small town. Soon after going online to research their connection to mythology, she discovers the new residents are impossibly strong and impossibly fast supernatural beings who also have individual powers such as the ability to see the future or the ability to detect lies. Following a number of arguments, the main character falls in love with the most ridiculously good looking son, though he refuses to sleep with her because of his supernatural-ness. There is a larger group of supernatural beings – based in Europe – with whom the family has a bloody disagreement on an issue fundamental to their supernatural-ness, and the family must protect the girl from them even as they must resist the urge to kill her themselves. When the girl gains access to supernatural powers of her own, everyone is shocked by how powerful she is, and she soon becomes the bestest best supernatural creature that ever did supernatural creature.

Oh, and members of the family go to her house and listen to her sleep without her knowledge. Dear YA fantasy novels: I don’t think this means what you think it means.

Another thing Starcrossed has in common with Twilight is its horrendous writing, which features awkward phrasing, unrealistically verbose characters, no sense of suspense, no attempt to show instead of tell, exposition dumps all over the place, and an obsession with the word “gestured.” I think what I found most irritating, though, was how so much of this book was overexplained. Every action comes with an adverb or a phrase to explain how or why the character performed that action, even when it is perfectly obvious. This book would have been vastly improved (and at least a hundred pages shorter) if someone had realized that these all desperatedly needed to be cut.

And now, a selection of passages I hated.

Claire Aoki, aka Giggles, was a badass.

… what.

“You certainly do heal fast. But you’ll still have some impressive bruises, so if I were you I’d avoid your father for the rest of the night.”
“I’ll just tell him you abuse me,” Helen said with a shrug. She jumped off the examining table.
“And I’ll tell him you like it,” he teased back, his voice rich and slow.

Oh yes, this is exactly the sort of dialogue I want to hear in an otherwise unquestioned ~*~GREATEST LOVE STORY EVER TOLD~*~ relationship. Allow me to spare you the passage where a woman the antagonist murders is described as “lovely in terror” and “waiting to be kissed.” The dead women are beautiful and sexually available trope, my least favourite trope of all!

Helen’s vision stabilized again, and she watched his bare back moving away from her. The last cobwebs clearing from her eyes, she decided that if Lucas was gay then she was going to have to get a sex change operation. He would be so worth it.

According to my Kindle copy, those last two lines have been highlighted by 46 different people, and I am hoping against hope that it’s because they all reacted with a “WTF?!?” I mean, I’ve heard tell that sex change operations are long and stressful and unpleasant processes and when people decide to undergo them they usually have rather stronger reasons than an attractive classmate …

Yet another way Starcrossed bothered me is by having its characters constantly misremember what happens in the Iliad, even as they believe it to be historical fact of the utmost importance. An especially frustrating passage comes when Helen decides to read “as much as she could” of the Iliad. The narration continues on to tell us “how much she disliked Helen of Troy,” unable to “understand why she didn’t just go back to her husband. People were dying.” Helen of Troy’s role in the war is first brought up in Book II, and her first appearance comes with the first battle scene (the first scene where people die for reasons other than plague) in Book III, so I figured Helen Hamilton would have read the first couple Books at least, but then we get: “She was up to the part where Achilles … started sulking in his tent over a girl.” Soooooo not even to the end of Book I? How does that make any sense??

I shall now reluctantly admit that this book was not entirely horrible. Helen’s nightmares were well-written, and the Furies were properly creepy. There were a couple funny lines. Once I got through the first few chapters, which were especially terrible, I found the story at least compelling enough to finish the novel. But I cannot overstate how awful the writing is, and how baffled I am by the number of positive reviews this book is getting – not to mention how confused I was to find that it inspired a song and a music video. I’m genuinely embarrassed to say I’m tempted to read the sequel, even if it’s just to see how long it takes Helen and Lucas to realize that the only thing keeping them apart is their inability to do basic math.

BUT THERE HAD BETTER BE SOME VAMPIRE SCION BASEBALL, because I mean seriously. At least Twilight is entertaining in its awfulness.

Buy it at:,

As she searched, she looked down at the fallen architecture and read the names graffitied on its sides. … For what seemed like days she ran her fingers over the names carved into the fragmented bones of ruined loves, stepping around the broken pillars of unkept vows and dusting the headstones in the graveyard of love with her hands. Every kind of death had a resting place in the dry lands.
She walked until her feet bled.

August 24, 2012

Shana Norris: “Overtime: A Novella”

Overtime: A Novella

YA Novel
Pages: 103
First Published: 2012

Synopsis: Five months ago, the epic rivalry between the Trojans and Spartans ended in flames. Now the two schools exist in an uneasy ceasefire as a community event threatens to push them over the edge.

Cassie Prince just wants to focus on her new relationship. But is happiness possible in a place where loyalties run deep?

The Trojans and Spartans return in this ebook sequel novella to the YA novel Troy High.

My Thoughts: As you know if you’ve read my ridiculous review, Shana Norris’ Troy High brought me an absurd amount of joy. It’s just so earnestly committed to telling the story of the Trojan War via a series of silly scenes set in a modern day high school. It certainly has its faults, but not half enough to stop me from loving it unashamedly. Unfortunately, as I really should have seen coming, remove the Trojan War from the story and what remains isn’t enough to hold my interest. As explained in the author’s note, Overtime does include a few nods towards the myths (most obviously in the addition of Nessa, the Clytemnestra character), but its focus is on a high schooler who is planning a beach clean-up while simultaneously taking the worst approach ever to dealing with a boyfriend she suspects is cheating. If that sounds like your thing, don’t let me stop you from checking it out, but I admit I was disappointed to find this book lacking in Troy High-level awesomeness.

Helen does get angry with Paris for texting instead of paying attention to her, though. I guess that’s kind of amusing. ~*~GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD~*~

Buy it at:

In the front row, Elena nudged Perry hard in the ribs. A moment later, my brother stood in his seat and yelled out, “Shut up or get out!”
The room fell silent. Señor McIntyre looked up from his book long enough to say, “Feet off the chair, Mr. Prince.”

September 24, 2010

Shana Norris: “Troy High”

Troy High

YA Novel
Pages: 259
First Published: 2009

Synopsis: What if Helen of Troy went to your high school?

Homer’s Iliad, a classic tale of love and revenge, is shrewdly retold for teens in Troy High. Narrated by Cassie, a shy outsider who fears that an epic high school rivalry is about to go up in flames, the story follows the battling Trojans and Spartans as they declare war on the football field. After the beautiful Elena – who used to be the captain of the Spartan cheerleaders – transfers to Troy High and falls madly in love with Cassie’s brother Perry, the Spartans vow that the annual homecoming game will never be forgotten.

The Trojans and Spartans pull wicked pranks on each other as homecoming approaches. And the Spartans’ wild-card football star, Ackley, promises to take down the Trojans’ offensive line. But the stakes are raised when Cassie is forced to choose between the boy she loves (a Spartan) and loyalty to her family and school. Troy High will seduce readers with its incendiary cast of mythic proportions.

My Thoughts: Oh my god, consider this reader seduced. The Trojan War in a modern day high school! I feel like just the fact that this book exists has improved my life tenfold. I can’t even bring myself to criticise its awkward writing, unrealistic dialogue, one-dimensional characters and the fact that Achilles has been renamed Ackley when the back cover shows a TPed bank of lockers with the words “TRAITOR! TROY WILL FALL!” spray painted on them! This book needs to be made into a ridiculous teen movie as soon as possible, and when it is I will go watch it five times.

Point form can only try to contain the rest of this awesomeness:

· Agamemnon and Cassandra are an actual romantic couple in this book (and they meet at band camp!!). I had to keep forcing myself to forget that Greg is the Agamemnon character, because every time I remembered I got squicked. out. The Author’s Note ends with “[Cassie and Greg’s] story has a much happier ending than the one about Agamemnon and Cassandra!” Understatement of the year?

· I’m confused by the part of the synopsis that claims that Elena was the captain of the Spartan cheerleaders. I’m pretty sure that was never actually said in the book. (Then again, I read it in one sitting, and it could easily have addled my brain.) I was also confused when Elena and Perry (another new name I didn’t care for) weren’t homecoming king and queen, but maybe I’ve just watched “Hercules and the Trojan War” too many times. (In case any of you were worried that there’s only one Trojan War retelling set in a high school, feel free to relax. There are at least two!)

· There is a character named Paul Baker who shows up a few times near the end of the book, and every time he did I burst out laughing because he was always introduced as “Paul Baker,” and I had no idea why! Like, was that supposed to be some kind of a hint about him or the story? Is his last name important somehow? I enjoyed pretending I was Alex of Alex Reads Twilight, except that instead of “Who the fuck is Lauren?” I was sitting there asking, “Who is Paul Baker??” Another way this book reminded me of Twilight is that Cassie’s unpopularity is exactly as inexplicable as Bella’s popularity. And now I have to stop talking about Twilight because it’s tainting this page.

· It was a little weird to me that Cassie knows the story of the Trojan War (there’s apparently even a mural of the story painted on the walls of the Troy High cafeteria) and yet never connects any of the people or events in her life to characters or events in the story beyond a general “Troy and Sparta had a war once too!” I don’t think it would’ve enhanced the book had she noticed, but I think I would’ve preferred her to be ignorant of the story because this way it’s just weird.

· Gotta say, the whole wrath of Achilles thing was a lot less interesting on the football field than on the battlefield. I mean, Ackley has to get revenge because Patrick has been … benched? Also, I loved how this book’s version of the oath of the horse was “Lucas says we can’t be on the team if we don’t help him!” Dramatic! Also also, I was really disappointed when no one turned out to be hiding in this version of the wooden horse. Actually disappointed!!

· I thought I had more to say about this book than I do. Pretty much if you think you’ll like it, you probably will, and if you don’t think you’ll like it then you won’t. I thought this book would be amazing and hilarious and it definitely was. I can’t even lie, I am kind of sad that I finished it. I should write Norris and ask if there’s any chance for a sequel. A retelling of the Odyssey starring Owen? Or hey – maybe Paul Baker is Aeneas?!

· I like to pick out ~dramatic lines~ to feature in these reviews, and I must say that, compared to your average Trojan War novel, Troy High is really lacking in ~dramatic lines~! Here’s one I found:

I pushed Greg away as hard as I could and ran toward Troy High burning in the distance.

Oh yeah. She went there.

I also feel the need to quote this next bit, because it is too ridiculous not to:

Perry’s bedroom door opened and he walked into the hall, his cell phone pressed to his ear. “I miss you too, snuggle bear,” he cooed.

Snuggle bear? Gag me.

Hunter snatched the phone out of Perry’s hand and hung it up.

“Hey!” Perry exclaimed.

“You can talk to your girlfriend at school,” Hunter said.

Truly this is the greatest novel ever based on the greatest story ever told.

Buy it at:,

September 20, 2010

Caroline B. Cooney: “Goddess of Yesterday”

Goddess of Yesterday  Goddess of Yesterday

“Here is my advice to you. Stay silent. Be fearful of Helen. The daughter of a god pays no price for any action she takes. She cannot suffer and so she does not discern the suffering of others.”

YA Novel
Alternate Title: Goddess of Yesterday: A Tale of Troy
Pages: 263
First Published: 2002

Synopsis: Anaxandra is the happy favorite child of her father, the chieftain on their small island in the Aegean Sea. At age six she is taken by King Nicander to be a companion to his crippled daughter, Princess Callisto, on the island of Siphnos. Anaxandra has adjusted to her new life when, six years later, fate again intervenes. Siphnos is sacked by pirates, and she is the sole survivor. When a fleet of ships stops on the island to investigate, she assumes the identity of Princess Callisto in order to survive.

The ships belong to Menelaus, great king of Sparta, and he takes her back to Sparta with him. But Helen, beautiful wife of Menelaus, does not believe that this red-headed child is Princess Callisto. Fearful of the half-mortal, half-goddess Helen, Anaxandra refuses to fall under her spell. She manages to stay out of harm’s way – until the Trojan princes Paris and Aeneas arrive. When Menelaus and his men depart to attend his grandfather’s funeral, Paris and Helen’s passionate affair plunges Sparta and Troy into war. Can Anaxandra find the courage to reinvent herself once again, appease the gods and save herself?

In Caroline B. Cooney’s epic tale of one girl’s courage and will to survive, Anaxandra learns that home is where you make it and identity goes deeper than just your name.

Helen bandaged the wounded. I thought she did not touch those grisly wounds to heal them, but to have blood upon her hands.

My Thoughts: So I’ve come to the decision that the very first review on my sparkling new blog is going to be … in point form. That’s just the way today is going.

· The cover on the left is not how I pictured Anaxandra at all, and the cover on the right is not what you think it is.

· Do your best to ignore that extraordinarily awkward synopsis. I personally found this book a lot more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Part of that was probably because I started reading it after my failed attempt at reading Esther Friesner’s Nobody’s Princess, a book that left me desperate for a narration style that allowed for a little bit of subtlety, I mean honestly. I’m sure I could’ve whipped through that book before it was due back at the library, but I just couldn’t handle the thought of reading an entire novel that believes that every piece of dialogue has to be explained to you, multiple times if possible. Goddess of Yesterday does feature a bit of YA awkwardness (weird euphemisms, overdramatic punctuation, and actually a few scenes that could’ve used a bit more explanation), but overall I found it so much more readable than Nobody’s Princess.

· I almost feel that to include this book on a blog about the Trojan War is to misrepresent it; I have no idea where they get away with the subtitle “A Tale of Troy.” We don’t see Troy until page 166, and then the book ends on the second day of the war! I was surprisingly not bothered by this. There was enough going on in the story that I was never bored, and I liked that there are hints scattered throughout the novel of what will be waiting for the characters when they do get to Troy. Also, I admit that the odd timeline was a nice bit of fresh air, after reading so many novels that all cover the same scenes.

· I really enjoyed the way that familiar characters were given personalities different than what we’re used to seeing. Bloodthirsty Helen and Paris did get a little tiresome once I realized they weren’t going to be given any more depth than that, but I loved adorable chatterbox Andromache! I wonder if this is the first version of her I’ve seen where she doesn’t spend all her days just moping around the palace.

· I am so, so over the whole “Nobody believes Cassandra – except me!” thing. Look, either nobody believes Cassandra or they don’t*, but it doesn’t make sense for one special person (usually the protagonist) to believe her simply on the whim of the author. This book is definitely guilty of employing this tired trope, but at the same time I’m hesitant to condemn it for that, because Cassandra’s last scene might not have worked otherwise, and I have to say it was pretty awesome.

* I can’t figure out how to make this line work. You know what I mean.

· I’m not really down with the whole falling-in-lifelong-love-at-first-sight-at-the-age-of-thirteen thing. After I watched the recent Clash of the Titans (which I do not recommend, but my curiosity was too much to pass it up), I spent the entire rest of the day trying to figure out how to write stories based on Greek mythology without repeating some of its less appealing messages. (I was none too pleased with the way Clash of the Titans was apparently pretty cool with blaming the victim; see the scene where they clumsily explain Medusa’s backstory.) I confess I’m not bothered to the same extent by Anaxandra’s love life, but once again it’s making me think. (But having said all that, I was actually quite happy with the end of this book. Me and my conflicting emotions.)

· Sort of continuing the above point, I love that Anaxandra adores Medusa!

· Overall I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend it, so long as you’re okay with it devoting more time to Anaxandra’s story than to the story of the Trojan War.

Buy it at:,

Poor Troy. You too have left your gates open.
Paris will destroy you.