Hand of Fire: A Novel of Briseis and The Trojan War, Synopsis~
The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.
When Judith Starkston started talking about her book Hand of Fire, I couldn’t wait to read it! A lover of Greek mythology, or any mythology for that matter, as well as Greek history and ancient cultures (not to mention that I love the classical poets, authors, and philosophers, after studying both in literature, history, science, latin, and philosophy classes), I obviously knew this book was calling my name!! I’ve been looking for more historical fiction in this regard, especially encircling the Trojan War or historical aspects of Greek mythology, and Starkston delivered without a hint of a gift horse in sight. Rather, her chariot arrived with an extraordinarily well-researched, emotionally captivating, and magnificently written novel.
In Homer’s Iliad, which is the one of the foremost texts outlining a possible existence of the Trojan War, he writes of the latter part of this war between Troy and the Greeks. The female, Briseis, is merely mentioned by only a few lines, but her story has harbored questions for historians and readers for many centuries. Who was Briseis, what role did she play? How did a romance with the half-god Achilles play out, with she as a captive priestess of Troy? There might not ever be any further concrete evidence, however, Judith seems to have seen these questions as a challenge she might answer through her historical fiction pen.
Judith writes vividly of Briseis, formulating a protagonist we all can care and cheer for by the end. She creates a strong woman who grows exponentially from the start of the novel to the finale where she is a woman wielding tremendous personal independence and power. She’s a problem solver, has an inquisitive nature, a fierce but open heart, and does it all with a humble spirit. It’s easy to question yourself under such extreme circumstances, and when Briseis does so, it just makes her that much more real.
As she was a caregiver at home with her family, Briseis becomes a caregiver even as a captive to the Greek soldiers. It was when Achilles loses Patroklos, his most endeared friend, and shows is vulnerable mortal side, that Briseis cares for his grieving heart, even as she herself grieves for Patroklos, who was much loved by all.
Not only did I feel the pain, torment, and loss of the characters due to war, cruelty, death, and remorse, but I absorbed the connection of the couple at the moment when Briseis cares for Achilles and an unlikely romance is ignited, but one that is beautifully told with passion and fervor, a soft hand, yet firm. There is forgiveness, redemption, and hope that fills the lines of this novel that is so compelling to me. Though she is mortal, and he half-mortal, he treats her as a goddess she could be, with her healing powers and pure, yet brave, heart. They understand each other in a way that is truly endearing.
Judith does a remarkable job with her character development of Briseis, showing us who she might have been as a healer, a priestess, and a pivotal woman of history; Achilles, giving us his more sensitive, romantic, and caring side; brave and balanced Patroklos; and the older nurse of Briseis, named Eurome. Judith’s characters have been deftly outlined to construct three-dimensional personae that leave us feeling as if we’ve known them personally. As a reader, it was easy for me to become caught up in their lives. And that, coupled with the historical research and her action and dialogue, made me propel through the pages of this book, wishing never a minute might come in which I had to put it down.
The elegant, detailed descriptions of setting and characters were eloquent and rich, allowing me to visualize the ancient past and yearn for a time long ago. As if watching an even better version of the movie “Troy,” the novel Hand of Fire, brings a grace and elegance to such a time-told tale. Judith was wonderful to give us a version of Briseis in full form within the pages of her book, and though the ending brought tears to my eyes, it also lifted my spirits and I eagerly await the next book. I can’t wait to see how Briseis fares during the next phase of her life’s journey.
I’d ride with fire blazing behind me in my own gold chariot to recommend Judith’s Hand of Fire to anyone who likes historical fiction or Greek mythology, but especially to readers like me who love tales of the ancient worlds and strong female protagonists, especially those who seem chosen to be destined for monumental things. Excellent novel!
STAY TUNED for an INTERVIEW tomorrow with Judith. She’ll probably need a strong vat of coffee after the interview I put her through, as I had WAY too many interesting things to ask! On Friday, she’ll be back on with a wonderful guest article and photos!
Judith Starkston, Biography~
Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz and M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities.
She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.
Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Starkston’s website www.JudithStarkston.com.
Visit on Goodreads Hand of Fire
Link to the tour schedule: Hand of Fire Fireship Press Virtual Tour
Praise for Hand of Fire~
“Judith Starkston has created a world full of historical accuracy to rival any other, and has crafted characters that we can all find similar to ourselves. I consider Hand of Fire to be one of the most powerful and well-written tales set in the Late Bronze-Age, and one of the best books of 2014. I look forward with great fervor to future works by Judith Starkston, which, if written on the caliber of Hand of Fire, will become classics themselves.” Nassem Al-Mehairi, Seize the Moment. See full review HERE.
“But what is the difference between a good historical novel and a brilliant one?
I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer.” Helen Hollick, Historical Novels Review Editor and author of Forever Queen
“In Hand of Fire, Starkston’s careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!” — Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath
“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell
“Briseis steps out from the handful of lines she gets in Homer’s epic, and fearlessly tells her own story as healer, war prize, and partner to the famous Achilles–here a godlike hero who manages to be all too human. Recommended!”-Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills