By Helen’s Hand is the sequel to Helen of Sparta which I read two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed, however this one left me a little disappointed.
From the outset, Amalia Carosella has a significant battle on her hands because the Helen legend is so famous, it would be hard for anyone to bring fresh ideas to the table, yet she has managed to do that by concentrating on lesser known parts of the legend. In Helen of Sparta, Carosella’s Helen takes a more active role in her fate by trying to fight her destiny but it seems not even the daughter of Zeus can escape her fate.
While Helen is still scheming in By Helen’s Hand, there is a sense that destiny has a tighter hold on her than ever but since we have reached the more familiar aspects of the legend, Helen’s fight seems completely implausible. Now that Helen has been returned to Sparta, the first half of the book primarily concentrates on the trials to win Helen’s hand in marriage and we are introduced to Helen’s prospective suitors, some of whom are less heroic than others. The trouble is Carosella put Theseus on such a pedestal in the previous book, none of the men in the sequel can possibly live up to his standards. While Helen pines for Theseus, her attempts to find herself a champion are doomed from the start as even her most staunchest allies cannot ignore the possibility of claiming her as a bride.
While everyone else is competing for Helen’s hand, Menelaus proves his unworthiness by having his brother, Agamemnon, take his place and resort to cheating in some of the trials. While I appreciate it is good to have villains, I can’t help thinking Menelaus and Agamemnon have been given a raw deal in these stories because they don’t seem to have any redeemable qualities. We know Menelaus wins Helen in the end but not having him compete at the trials in the first place serves him a great injustice and it bothers me greatly that he is portrayed as nothing more than a rapist. While Menelaus and Agamemnon were certainly born into a family of misfortune, the seeds of which probably colours their actions in these books, I think it needs to have been explained better because not everything is as it appears.
Once the tedious trials have been concluded, the story jumps forward a couple of years to the point where Helen’s father is dying and Menelaus is about to become King of Sparta. As predicted, Helen and Menelaus’s marriage is a disaster and Helen has become a virtual prisoner in her own home as her husband jealously keeps her away from other men. Menelaus is also distraught that Helen hasn’t provided him with an heir and when Helen finally gives birth to their daughter, Hermione, Helen chooses to have nothing to do with her. I’m afraid Helen’s treatment of her infant daughter went a long way to turning me against her as a character, while I understood her reasoning behind it, it never felt anything but cruelty on Helen’s part.
Of course, away from Sparta, the shadow of Paris is beginning to loom larger and the interference of the gods all but ensures Helen and Paris are on a collision course. We already met Paris in the previous book, however in By Helen’s Hand he has a larger role to play when he reclaims his birthright as a prince of Troy and decides it is time to claim the prize the gods have promised him. Paris manages to get himself sent to Sparta where he finally meets the object of his desire and Helen realises fate has finally caught up with her. As Helen leaves quietly with Paris, you would be forgiven for thinking everything had been set in motion for the war Helen has been trying to stop all along but Carosella has one more huge surprise in store for us.
The ending is strange to say the least and you are either going to love it or hate it, and I still can’t make up my mind which way to go. It is certainly a theory that I have never encountered before in regard to what happened to Helen but I have since done some research and Carosella hasn’t just plucked the idea out of thin air – it does exist – but it was a brave choice.