Book Review:  Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston

in Book Review, Toni Linenberger


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perf6.000x9.000.inddThe 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.


The challenge to any writer opting to take on an historical topic is getting it right.  The problem is that getting it right varies from reader to reader, time period to time period.  History is an ever changing landscape – ironic I know – and readers often hold their own beliefs and recollections about an event very sacred.  Anything that moves from the remembered past is met with resistance.  This becomes even more difficult when taking the known and creating a work of fiction around detailed events.

In Hand of Fire, her first novel, Starkston brings to life a minor female character, Briseis, from the Iliad and other accounts of the Greek and Trojan Wars.  The advantage to this strategy is that little is known about this woman.  There is no historical record to contradict or follow when telling her story.  Others in the narrative are much more well-known, including Achilles.  In a masterful way, Starkston weaves together the known stories while crafting a detailed narrative about this woman who rates only a mention in the original poems, but caused a significant conflict between Achilles and Agamemnon.  Briseis becomes a voice for all women of that time period as we follow her struggles and victories in the face of overwhelming events.


I admit at times I struggled trying to remember my high school reading of the Illiad and the Odyssey; not to mention my classics and studies of the Greek and Roman gods.  Eventually I gave up and just enjoyed the story and allowed it to carry me forward.  Starkston is a master of language and easily drew me into the world she re-created.  Her detailed research found its way into the story and made the narrative much more rich and layered.  I fell in love with Achilles along with Briseis and mourned those lost in the senseless war between the two great cultures.


A must read for anyone interested in the classics, Greek and Roman mythology, or just a great story.  While the topic is esoteric, the writing is wonderful and the storytelling well worth the investment of time.  I cannot wait to see where this debut author goes from here.


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