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Beauty's Daughter: The Story of Hermione and Helen of Troy
by Carolyn Meyer

Before the name “Hermione” became synonymous with Harry Potter's brainy best friend, it belonged to the only daughter of Helen of Troy. Hermione has always lived in the shadow of her mother's legendary beauty. When Helen disappears from their home in Sparta with Paris, prince of Troy, Hermione convinces herself that her mother was kidnapped. When Menalaus and his brother Agamemnon declare war on Troy, Hermione even sneaks aboard a ship and travels with the soldiers to their camp outside the city walls. For ten years, she and her fellow Greeks wait as the men fight and the women pray for the gods and goddesses to intervene and end the war. Finally, the Trojans are defeated and Menalaus is reunited with his wife, but Hermione's adventures are just beginning as she marries Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, and joins him as the queen of Phthia, where new trials confront her daily.

Very little about Hermione survives in the traditional Greek myths. She is the daughter of Menalaus and Helen, and her grandfather betroths her to Orestes. In one version of her story, her father is unaware of the betrothal, and in another he knowingly breaks it. Either way, she ends up married to the son of Achilles. Eventually she is reunited with Orestes after the death of her husband.

This bare framework is an excellent place to weave a story, and Carolyn Meyer's account of Hermione's childhood and life in the Greek camps is both convincing and compelling. The relationship between Hermione and her mother is strained, often distant. Hermione wryly observes in an early chapter that while her memory is good, Helen doesn't need to remember anything because her simple existence is enough to bring pleasure. It becomes increasingly clear as time passes that Hermione is clever and observant, but these traits hold no interest to Helen, who simply criticizes her daughter's appearance or chatters about her own magnificent and manifest attractions.

A good chunk of the early chapters is spent recounting the myths of Helen's life: her miraculous birth, her kidnapping by Theseus, and her many suitors. When visiting their cousins in Mycenae, the women and girls gossip about Paris, the hunky new prince of Troy, and more mythology is piled on for the reader. This could have been little more than a massive info-dump, but Meyer's chattering women make the conversation seem natural, even normal.

The first half of the book focuses on Hermione and her relationship with her parents, and it's rather sad. After her mother and Paris run away, Hermione realizes that neither her mother nor her father love her enough to place her before their own desires. Menalaus thinks only of Helen when she's gone, and Helen seems only to think of herself. When she is married off to Pyrrhus against her will, it's the last straw; Hermione mentally divorces herself from her parents, and their relationship never recovers. The second half of the narrative is her quest for love and acceptance – first, she seeks with her friends and handmaids in her husband's home, and later at the side of her cousin Orestes.

One thing I always think about in stories about the Trojan War is the role of the gods. In some versions, they are invisible, and any effect they have must be surmised by priests and soothsayers. In others, the gods are active participants. Beauty's Daughter goes with this second option, which means that the supernatural can and does happen. Gods can lift a man away from a battlefield before his fellow soldiers or strike a man down for insulting them. Curses can be effective tools of revenge. It adds an additional layer of unpredictability to the story's events.

Eventually, Hermione gets her happy ending. The book is a great introduction to myths about Troy, or a fine supplement since it finally fleshes out a character who is only mentioned in passing in the original tales.

4 out of 5 stars

To read more about Beauty's Daughter, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Egyptology (Ologies #2) by Emily Sands and Dugald Steer
2011: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
2010: The Candidates (Delacroix Academy #1) by Inara Scott
2009: Going on hiatus...
2008: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland


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