Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster: NY, 1996.
Inside the Walls of Troy follows two women (Helen of Sparta and Cassandra of Troy) leading up to and through the events of the Trojan War.
Helen has suitors at the age of twelve, since her father is King of Sparta and she is known for her beauty. It is this beauty that prompts Theseus of Athens (warrior turned pirate) to kidnap her for ransom. With fashion tips and advice, he proceeds to transform her into a princess of unparalleled charm and beauty. She marries King Menelaus of Mycenae, brother of Agamemnon, high king over all of Greece. They live happily for years and have a daughter together, until Menelaus invites Paris (younger prince of Troy) for a diplomatic visit to dispel talk of an impending war between Greece and Troy. Paris and Helen fall in love, and Paris convinces Helen to run away with him.
Cassandra, who is a dream-seer, knows that Helen is trouble as soon as she sees her. She will bring death and destruction to Troy. Cassandra demands she be sent away, but her people never listen to her words of doom, even knowing how many times she has been right. They just see her as weird. All except her twin brother Helenus (also a seer). Her father Priam, King of Troy, welcomes Helen and refuses to send her back to Menelaus, even if it means war. As Cassandra gets to know Helen, she also decides she should not be sacrificed.
Helen and Cassandra have two things in common. Neither wishes to be a political trade in the marriage market, and they are both outsiders in Troy. Cassandra is because she would rather be involved in the governing of Troy than women's business. Helen because she is from Greece and they are anticipating war regarding her actions. As the war progresses, Helen is ostracized more and more, with some of the Trojan women wanting to throw her over the wall to the Greek warriors.
McLaren explains that Cassandra and Helen are barely mentioned in ancient Greek texts such as Homer's The Iliad. She wanted a story that would give the female perspective. All the major male characters are here also, but McLaren's tale tells the stories of the women involved, perhaps adding some depth. I enjoyed the references to the traditional story as well as other Greek tales. It is good to see the males also with a life besides the warrior view. Events have so much more meaning when you take into account the emotional and social aspects. For this reason, I enjoy historical fiction, and even history more than when my reading was limited to textbooks.
I particularly enjoyed Cassandra's perspective. She is in a position to view the circumstances from more than one side. She sees more than others, and decisions are not any easier. Mostly she just watches the whole thing play out, but in the end, it is her actions that matter to the survivors.
I highly recommend the book, but those unfamiliar with the Trojan War should consider reading The Iliad first, or an overview such as Rosemary Sutcliff's Black Ships Before Troy.
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