caitysreadviews's Reviews > Nobody's Princess

Nobody's Princess by Esther M. Friesner
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Aug 06, 13

Courtesy of Caity's Readviews:

In Nobody’s Princess, we meet the young Helen of Sparta, as author Esther Friesner imagines her to have been before she became the Iliad’s famous Helen of Troy. Inspired by Sparta’s later practices to train their girls and women in athletics and warfare, Friesner paints Helen as a feisty and fearless would-be warrior maiden, as well as possessing her legendary physical beauty.

Aside from its premise, the plot (or lack thereof) in Nobody’s Princess unfortunately falls flat. Young Helen’s adamant determination to be free of a woman’s domesticated fate sends her on numerous little adventures, disguising herself as a boy and learning swordplay, hunting, and horseback riding, helping slay a wild boar, and voyaging to new cities, but each is separate, not necessarily coming together toward a cohesive plot.

What I enjoyed about this novel: it was a quick and easy read, and the enchanting setting of Bronze Age Greece was well-described and captured my imagination. I enjoyed the numerous mythological references and the way in which Friesner wove the Greek gods and goddesses, heroes, and their stories into Helen’s daily world and consciousness. Nearly all of the supporting characters had color and charm in their own ways; even despite the anachronistic dialogue, I would have enjoyed reading more of their stories and interactions. I especially admired Atalanta, the friendly girl-warrior who teaches Helen how to ride horseback.

But as for Helen’s character, rather than coming across as strong-willed and lovably spunky, as the author so desperately wants her to be, I personally saw her as egoistic, reckless, and spoiled. It was obnoxious to me that Helen was constantly making rash and dangerous decisions, disregarding the very reasonable instructions of others, treating and speaking to her elders with blatant ignorance and disrespect, and completely unappreciative of her privileged and fortunate life. She also spends a great deal of time in vain thought over her physical beauty, unable to make up her mind whether she enjoys the attention and compliments, or wants to be more than just a pretty face. The last several chapters of the book are then focused around a fairly ludicrous and ill-conceived plan that does not even occur before the book’s end (it is the premise of the sequel, entitled Nobody’s Prize). Regardless of this being a work of fiction based off myth, under no circumstances would a fourteen-year-old girl of her status be able to pull off Helen’s scheme.

While I have these complaints, my twelve-year-old self would most likely have adored this book, and indeed that is the intended audience. While it is shelved in teen, it is better suited for younger adolescents, ages 11-13. The dialogue is modern and colloquial, there is no romantic or other thematic material, and Helen’s narration is rather informal, frequently employing the use of italic emphasis (which I personally find rather annoying and condescending, but which is fairly common in children’s literature). An okay read, but there are better YA books out there.


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