The Mirror of Helen
Richard Purtill

Kaphtu Trilogy #2
Category: Fantasy
Tags: ,
Morality: B-
Writing: B

This book tells the story of Helen from three viewpoints: Alceme, an Athenian woman who meets Helen when she is being held hostage by Theseus; M’pha, Helen’s serving maid in Troy; and Menelaus. Purtill makes few changes to the story beyond the world-building already established in his Greek universe, and a twist on the Helen-in-Egypt idea used by Euripides. But then, if it isn’t broke you needn’t fix it: there’s nothing wrong with a straight retelling of mythology. Purtill writes warmly and pleasantly, making the old stories come alive. The best part of the book is his characterization of Helen: he does not make her evil, but neither does he absolve her of all guilt. Instead she’s an intelligent, strong-willed person who makes mistakes but learns from them.

Morally, the book is okay. There are a bunch of pagan gods, of course, though the main characters seem to think of them more as authorities to be dealt with than deities to be worshipped. There are some references to a dubious fertility rite, and M’pha mentions being an initiate of the Eleusinian mysteries. On the other hand, there are some very good ideas of love and marriage presented. Unless the phrase “Greek goddess!” will instantly drag you to the depths of idolatry, I don’t think you need to worry about it.

Posted by Rose | May 22, 2003

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