Monday, April 6, 2015

Review and Giveaway: Helen of Sparta by Amalia Carosella

Helen of Sparta
by Amalia Carosella
Release Date: April 1st, 2015
2015 Lake Union Publishing
Ebook Edition; 416 Pages
ISBN: 978-1477821381
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

4 / 5 Stars

Long before she ran away with Paris to Troy, Helen of Sparta was haunted by nightmares of a burning city under siege. These dreams foretold impending war—a war that only Helen has the power to avert. To do so, she must defy her family and betray her betrothed by fleeing the palace in the dead of night. In need of protection, she finds shelter and comfort in the arms of Theseus, son of Poseidon. With Theseus at her side, she believes she can escape her destiny. But at every turn, new dangers—violence, betrayal, extortion, threat of war—thwart Helen’s plans and bar her path. Still, she refuses to bend to the will of the gods.

My Thoughts
Helen of Sparta is one of those stories for which I have been waiting for a very long time.  I have never been satisfied with previous versions of these stories as I never felt that the books did the women of these stories justice; I always thought they were brave, courageous, and as powerful as the men in order to survive in such circumstances, and I felt the storytelling never really did justice to their personalities or their stories. (David Gemmell's Troy Trilogy might be an exception.)  It's nice to see a story that views Helen in a different light than one who is selfish and vindictive.

This was Helen's story, from the time she became a woman, to the time of her marriage to Theseus and subsequent capture by her brothers to be returned to Sparta.  I enjoyed Helen's quirky personality, her willingness to want to be more than just a pretty face who captures the attention of kings, someone who gets into trouble rather regularly, a woman who climbs out of windows and sneaks out of her room in the middle of the night, someone who is a bit of a daredevil, as it really rounded out her personality and made her quite likeable.  This is a woman with courage; one who took her punishments when caught, but who argued against them when necessary, and who fought against even the Gods she didn't admire for the nightmares she was receiving about a horrifying future that centered around her choices.  I actually liked that little addition to the story as it gave meaning to the choices she made and why a Princess of Sparta would be willing to leave her family, travel to Athens, and escape a political marriage expected of her since she was a little girl.  Perhaps if she had just stayed put, none of this would have happened in the first place.  Although the scene with Menelaus may give you pause about that one (spoiler).

I was glad to see the Helen and Theseus story explained in much more detail as there are so many conflicting tales in the mythological world about their relationship.  Theseus has always been one of my mythological heroes and I enjoyed reading about him as both a man and a demi-God, one whose father seems to have forsaken him, but who is under the protection of Athena. Theseus does come off as quite noble, but it's something I would have expected of someone of his stature. On the other hand, you can feel his despair as he goes to visit the Gods's shrines on a daily basis asking for guidance and help, wondering if they have forsaken him.  I liked how the myths were woven quite seemlessly into the story; Leda's rape by the swam who turned out to be Zeus, Aethra's liaison with Poseidon which produced Theseus, Theseus's story about his former wives and the death of his son, and so on.  I will admit it's been a while since I've read the myths, so naturally, I spent some time re-reading stories on Agamemnon, Theseus, Menelaus, Priam, Clytemnestra, Tyndareus, Pirithous, and so on. 

I thought the story was very good, and it's evident the author has done extensive research and really knows her background on mythology.  It didn't take me long to figure out that we would not reach Troy in this novel as the pacing was too slow, but I still enjoyed the build-up and becoming re-acquainted with the characters.  For someone who has extensive knowledge on the topic, one might find it too slow for them, but it is good for someone who has little to no knowledge on the subject, or it has been a while since they have submersed themselves with the topic.  For me, I just enjoyed the storytelling from a different perspective, and soaked up the atmosphere of the times.

Helen of Sparta was an interesting and fascinating take on a tale that is quite familiar to many people.  I enjoyed reading about a spunkier and livelier Helen, one who makes her choices in order to save her family and her people based on horrific nightmares she is having about the future.  Although it is hard to read knowing her fate, and there is still a part of you that hopes another path awaits Helen, I still enjoyed the tale, getting to know different characters and the role they played in Helen's life.  And while I felt empathy and compassion for many of the characters, I will admit that one flaw I found in the book was a difficulty to feel close grief and compassion for Helen at times, especially during her deepest moments of grief.  Despite all this, I thought the author did a fantastic job juggling the difficult task of combing historical fact with the mythology and even allowing some liberties within the text itself.  It doesn't matter if the Gods didn't actually pop down and visit from Olympus or not, what matters most is that the people believed this is what happened and that is what counts, and this is how it was related.  Kudos to a well-blended narrative, and I definitely can't wait until the sequel comes out. 

About the Author

Amalia Carosella graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit her blog at She also writes fantasy and paranormal romance as Amalia Dillin.

You can also connect with Amalia on Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter here and here.

Helen of Sparta


  1. Thanks for pointing the book out- excellent review! I'll have to give it a read.