Over the Seas to Troy by Caroline B. Cooney
Over the Seas to Troy is the story of Anaxandra, a girl from a rocky island with no name, who becomes witness to some of the greatest events of the Trojan War.
After finishing Circe by Madeline Miller, I felt compelled to pick up this old favourite, because Over the Seas to Troy is a book I keep rereading since I first picked it up in Canterbury library over fifteen years ago. It falls in the Middle Grade age range, but the writing is sophisticated and the story engaging, so I enjoyed it just as much now as I did then—possibly even more now as I can appreciate what Cooney does with the source mythology, and how she builds and embellishes certain characters to walk in her own world.
The protagonist, Anaxandra, is taken hostage as a small child by a neighbouring island king. After she accidentally betrays her own father, she gives up her old life as lost, but her fate has more twists in store. After her hostage family is killed by pirates, Anaxandra lies about her identity and takes the place of the murdered princess, ending up as honoured guest in the court of Menelaus, King of Sparta. At court, she meets Helen, who immediately suspects that she is not who she says she is, and Anaxandra ends up being pulled into Helen’s world of betrayal and casual cruelty, which has terrible consequences as the Trojan War breaks out.
Anaxandra’s voice is dryly humorous and expressive resulting in skilful descriptions, and a narrative that pulls you along into her story. She is resilient, loyal, troubled by the choices she has had to make, and torn between her loyalties for the different cities that have welcomed her in. She is an observer, but not a passive one, and she takes control of her own story; even when beset on every side by enemies—the main of which is Helen.
Helen’s character and her actions are open to so many different interpretations, but Cooney writes her as an ethereal psychopath, completely obsessed with herself, and deliriously delighted with the blood that is spilled on her account. But Helen is also half-divine, and in a way her delight seems almost understandable. Of course people are going to be bewitched by her; she is Zeus’ daughter, and she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Helen knows these things and has no humility about them; maybe it’s only human standards that demand she should. A god, even a half-god, is there to be worshipped, after all.
Over the Seas to Troy by Caroline B. Cooney is a fast-paced, and often surprisingly dark, historical fantasy I would recommend for all ages.
© 2019 Alice Olivia Scarlett
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.