Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Hand of Fire

Hand of Fire

By Judith Starkston
Fireship Press, April 2014

About the Book

The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies, and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

My Review

Starkston’s debut novel, Hand of Fire, is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad from an entirely different—and female—perspective. Here we hear of Achilles and the Trojan War through the eyes of Briseis, priestess of the healing goddess, Kamrusepa, and widow of the heir to the throne of Lyrnessos, which is sacked by Achilles and the Greeks. Briseis becomes Achilles’ prisoner and fights an attraction to the man who was responsible for the killing and plundering that destroyed her family and her city. Once a prisoner and in love with the doomed hero, Briseis becomes a pawn in the larger struggle, caught between two warring powers, Achilles and Agamemnon.

Briseis is a minor character in the Iliad and fans of the 2004 movie Troy might remember her as Achilles’ captive and lover in the movie, a girl of torn loyalties but still someone with a small role in the story. Here, Starkston brings Briseis to life and gives her the credit she is due. We experience her thoughts, her dreams, her perspective on the killing, raping, and pillaging of the Trojan War; her relationships with her family; and her growing fear as she is pulled between Achilles and Agamemnon.

Starkston dusts off the classic and gives the readers a view through the eyes of a participant, one who played an integral role in the events but one who has been largely overlooked by historians and readers over the years. We experience the events in ways that bind the reader to Briseis, a young woman in extraordinary circumstances but with more in common with modern women than one could imagine.

Starkston shows us the Trojan War in a whole new light, with a heroine that is fierce, brave, loyal, and intriguing. Everyone should experience the Trojan War through Briseis’s eyes.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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