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Nobody's Princess (2007)

by Esther M. Friesner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Princesses of Myth (Friesner) (1), Nobody's Princess (1)

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1,1384017,829 (3.66)40
Determined to fend for herself in a world where only men have real freedom, headstrong Helen, who will be called queen of Sparta and Helen of Troy one day, learns to fight, hunt, and ride horses while disguised as a boy, and goes on an adventure throughout the Mediterranean world.
  1. 30
    Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (Caramellunacy)
    Caramellunacy: Both are stories about a headstrong young woman determined to learn to fight like the boys. Nobody's Princess is an imagining of Helen of Troy's life as a teenager (more tenacity and brains, less vapid beauty) steeped in Greek mythology. Alanna is the first in a fantasy series about a young woman who disguises herself as a boy so that she can be trained as a knight. Both are great girl power reads.… (more)
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» See also 40 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
This book is a strong kickoff for a YA series. It feels very exposition-based, establishing characters and whatnot. I find the action to be really realistic, many books set in this time period have magical crutches, and this book has none. The main girl is kind of clueless, which makes her kind of endearing as a person to follow. I'm pretty sure she'll turn out to be confident by the end. I love a growing-up tale. ( )
  Emma.June.Lyon | Nov 1, 2021 |
This wasn't quite what I was expecting, but still good. Helen and her story is much younger than I thought, it's a prequel but one that takes place during her childhood and not a lead up to the Trojan War. It includes physical training, politics, and the appearance of many myths and heroes which I enjoyed immensely as I've study Greek Mythology and specifically Greek Tragedies quite throughly. Seeing Helen in this light after reading so many texts about Clytemnestra and Helen after the Trojan War was a pleasure, though this book didn't particularly have a climax in my opinion. I will most likely read book two at some point. ( )
  Nikki_Sojkowski | Aug 26, 2021 |
A story about the younger Helen of Troy...before she launched a thousand ships. Friesner sends Helen off on many dangerous adventures. Appropriate introduction to Greek mythology for middle school and high school readers. ( )
  RobertaLea | Apr 4, 2021 |
Page 199 was a special page for me. Because that's when I put down the book and genuinely started to wonder when our main character - Helen - was actually going to, you know, do something. The book is the story of a princess who decides to defy social norm by becoming a warrior. You don’t even need to read the back to know that’s what you’re in for; when you take a look at the cover, with a woman in a dress with knife in belt and a title like “Nobody’s Princess”, you know it’s a girl power cash-in.

Up until that point (and well after), Helen is whining about how she's somehow on the same playing field as her brothers and other male peers because she had a few years of sword training and maybe a week or two of horseback riding lessons. Both of which we never see her absolutely excel in. She stays on the horse for a few minutes without falling off - we're supposed to tally this as a "victory" on her part - and beats her brothers in a sword fight, but that's about it. Forget about the bow hunting she's apparently so good at, they barely spend three pages on that particular skill. Still, I decided to give this novel a chance. I figured that the author might have some pacing issues, but perhaps we'd finally get to see the heroine that the fact of the book claims we "can't help but root for". Let's just say that I was disappointed.

I spent about ten minutes in an AP World class learning about ancient Sparta, and I somehow know more about it than the author seems to. At the time that this novel took place, Greece was separated into many tiny little cities, each with their own rich culture, patron Gods, and of course, ways of treating women. And compared to other areas of Greek, Sparta's women had a fair amount of mobility. Now, that isn't to say that it was okay for a woman to pick up a sword and learn to fight among the men, like Helen does. You'll find that when one talks about a woman's "mobility" in ancient times, it tends to be along the lines of "well, they could leave their house and own property". But the Spartans believed that a strong mother made strong warriors, and would push the women of Sparta into daily, strenuous physical exercise to ensure that their sons were bred to max potential. The women of Sparta were known amongst other Greek citadels for their boldness, their behind-the-scenes work in politics, and many other "manly" flaunts of influence. Many a man would visit Sparta and came back with horrible tales of how men actually listened to their wives! Aristotle even blamed the downfall of Sparta on the feminine influence, their "mobility" was so great. My main point here is that it makes no sense why at our book's beginning Helen is being forced into solely "women's work" when she's living in Sparta; sewing, lyre playing, and the like. I guess the author somehow reflects this power balance by showing that Helen's mother is a huntress, but that's about it. Another historical nitpick is the fact that her brothers aren't sent away to the barracks to train as they would have been in actual Sparta, even though they should well old enough. Historical inaccuracies are a no-no in a book like this, especially when you're trying to make a point about the historical treatment of women.

Oh, but don't worry, because Friesner is not about to let you forget that her book takes place in Greece! Every single page, we have to have some allusion to how Helen's gaze is as "cold as the tips of Mount Olympus" or the like. In moderation, it would be slightly annoying, but understandable. But when they're coming in droves, it breaks whatever pacing this book has because they're just so out of place. And in a book where we’re being introduced to characters who appear for about sixty pages then disappear (I’m supposed to feel upset when Helen’s cousin, with his five lines of dialogue, dies? I’m supposed to buy that a child Helen thinks in the exact same pattern as a fourteen year old Helen? I could go on about this particular topic) but for a faint mention by a nostalgic Helen, nothing should interfere with the pacing even further.

I think the worst part is that Helen isn't even necessarily a bad character. Yeah, it's obnoxious when she tries to set herself up as this strong, sword-wielding princess when she clearly isn't and doesn't do one thing to prove herself as what she claims she is, but still gets praise and the grace of the Gods for her actions. I’d like to mention as a slight detour from my main point that Helen even gets rewarded for just being at the place where a giant boar was slaughtered; she doesn't do much to kill it other than help a much more experienced hunter named Atlanta (who has all the skills and know-how that Helen claims to have - honestly, the book would have been much better if it was about her), but hey, Helen was THERE, so she deserves the entire boar's skin. But Helen is good at communicating with and reading people, and is fairly forgiving, even of her rude sister (whose entire character is mysteriously dropped from the storyline the minute she’s married off). She obviously has a big heart, as we see when she buys and promptly frees an abused slave boy. She's patient, smart, and cunning too. Helen not only questions the world around her - and that means the gods by extension – but takes the world forbidden to her by the horns. There are many ways to be a strong woman, and if Friesner had just cut the swordplay and ridiculous "skills" that Helen clearly does not have, she would have been a much better character. You don't need to hold a sword and act tough to be a true, strong woman. Even in ancient Greece.

Ultimately, the main problem is that this book was just a giant stepping stone to its sequel, trying hard to establish characters, settings, and plot points. The next book might be better, but I don’t think I’ll be finding out any time soon.
( )
  Dendy | Jan 20, 2021 |
This young adult historical fantasy follows Helen (of Troy, years before her Iliad fame) as a young Spartan princess with a taste for adventure. It was entertaining for what it was, and I may read its sequel, Nobody's Prize. (I'd give it 3½ stars if I could.) ( )
  suzecate | Nov 2, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Esther M. Friesnerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Rostant, LarryCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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This book is dedicated to the memory of Elissa Nicole Sullivan. Through her life, she gave an eternal gift of love, Through her art, an enduring legacy of beauty.
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Prologue: When I was four years old, my father, King Tyndareus of Sparta, dedicated a shrine to his favorite goddess, Aphrodite.
Part I, Chapter 1 (A Sacrifice to Artemis): I grew up with the gods all around me.
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Determined to fend for herself in a world where only men have real freedom, headstrong Helen, who will be called queen of Sparta and Helen of Troy one day, learns to fight, hunt, and ride horses while disguised as a boy, and goes on an adventure throughout the Mediterranean world.

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