Thursday, December 19, 2013

Guest Post + Review: Beauty's Daughter by Carolyn Meyer

*I use Grammarly's plagiarism checker because cool kids don't steal things.*
Today the lovely Carolyn Meyer is with us, talking about her newest book, Beauty's Daughter. I'm excited to hear what she has to say about it!

Writing the story of Hermione, the daughter of Helen of Troy, was a huge intellectual challenge. All of my earlier historical novels are based on actual people, and I had learned that the further back I went in history, the scarcer the material I had to draw on. Cleopatra, for example, was really tough to research. Whatever possessed me to tackle characters who existed only in myths going back thousands of years?
Well, I thought it was a good story--actually many stories, not just Hermione’s--and I believed I could make the lives and characters exciting and involving to young readers of today. But first I had to learn as much as possible about Bronze Age Greece.
I started with Homer's Iliad, composed around 800 BC, where I found most of the main characters of the story I wanted to tell—except Hermione. She doesn’t even appear in the Iliad. In fact, there isn't much about Hermione anywhere, just occasional mentions in other myths. I had to track down those occasional mentions from a number of sources. For that I relied on The Greek Myths, a scholarly work that brings together all the elements of every myth—800 pages! For the realistic details that bring a story to life--the palaces Hermione would have lived in, the clothes she might have worn, the food she'd have eaten--I drew on several books and many internet sites. The search for the little details (what kind of sails were on the ships? what kind of sandals did the messenger wear?) continued as I worked on characters and plot, right down to the final draft.
Most of the characters appear in other myths and plays, but some are my invention, created to deepen the story and to move it along. Zethus, Paris’s servant, is the first to appear. Later, Ardeste, Hermione’s maid, comes into the story, and several others.
 The plot is my own, woven from threads drawn from several myths. In the first part of BEAUTY’S DAUGHTER Helen tells her daughter, Hermione, about her own mother’s encounter with a swan--actually Zeus in disguise--that resulted in Helen’s “birth” from an egg. She describes the circumstances of her marriage to Menelaus, Hermione’s father. Helen’s sister Clytemnestra comes to visit, along with her three daughters, her son Orestes, and her husband, Menelaus’s brother Agamemnon. Then Prince Paris arrives in Greece from Troy, and the stage is set for the beginning of the Trojan War. Achilles and Hector appear, the gods swoop down from Mount Olympus to interfere.
Meanwhile, I try to figure out how to keep them all straight—particularly when the names are unfamiliar, hard to pronounce, and vary from myth to myth—make the reader believe in what’s happening and care how it all turns out, and bring all the mayhem to a satisfying conclusion. 

*I received this book in exchange for an honest review*
Published: October 8th, 2013 (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Pages: 352
Rating: 2/5 (DNF- did not finish)
Source: From the author
Hermione knows her mother is Helen of Troy, the famed beauty of Greek myth. Helen is not only beautiful but also impulsive, and when she falls in love with charming Prince Paris, she runs off with him to Troy, abandoning her distraught daughter. Determined to reclaim their enchanting queen, the Greek army sails for Troy. Hermione stows away in one of the thousand ships in the fleet and witnesses the start of the legendary Trojan War.
In the rough Greek encampment outside the walls of Troy, Hermione’s life is far from that of a pampered princess. Meanwhile, her mother basks in luxury in the royal palace inside the city. Hermione desperately wishes for the gods and goddesses to intervene and end the brutal war—and to bring her love. Will she end up with the handsome archer Orestes, or the formidable Pyrrhus, leader of a tribe of fierce warriors? And will she ever forgive her mother for bringing such chaos to her life and the lives of so many others? (Description from Goodreads)
I’ve read many of Carolyn’s books in the past, and enjoyed her historical fiction when I was younger. She writes brilliant, entertaining books that can also be very educational. However, Beauty’s Daughter just didn’t do it for me. As much as I wanted to like it, I couldn’t seem to get through it. I felt like there was a lot of backstory information at the beginning, which was, and normally is, necessary. Especially in historical novels. However, it seemed to weigh the story down and get in the way of character/plot development. Also, I felt like Hermione’s character was a bit dry. Not overwhelmingly so, but enough to bother me a little.
 Another thing is that the subtitle of the book tells us that it’s “The story of Hermione and Helen of Troy,” but at times it seems to be solely about Hermione. I was hoping for a bit more about Helen, but as the book is titled “Beauty’s Daughter,” I guess I shouldn’t have expected it to be focused on anyone but Hermione.
I honestly wanted to enjoy this book so much, yet it just fell short for me. It failed to grab my attention at the beginning, and though I kept reading, I still had to force myself to continue even after 50+ pages. However, I enjoy Carolyn’s writing on other time frames in history, especially on the princesses and queens of Europe. Despite my disappointment in this book, I hope to see more of her work on these time periods in the future.

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