Title: Goddess of Yesterday
Author: Caroline B. Cooney
Genre: Fantasy, Greek Retelling, Young Adult
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication date: First published in 2002
Paperback: 242 pages
Anaxandra is taken from her birth island at age 6 by King Nicander to be a companion to his crippled daughter, Princess Callisto. Six years later, her new island is sacked by pirates and she is the sole survivor. Alone with only her Medusa figurine, she reinvents herself as Princess Callisto when Menelaus, great king of Sparta, lands with his men. He takes her back to Sparta with him where Helen, his beautiful wife, does not believe that the red-headed child is Princess Callisto. Although fearful of the half-mortal, half-goddess Helen, Anaxandra is able to stay out of harm’s way—until the Trojan princes Paris and Aeneas arrive. Paris and Helen’s fascination with each other soon turns to passion and plunges Sparta and Troy into war. Can Anaxandra find the courage to reinvent herself once again, appease the gods, and save herself?
In Caroline B. Cooney’s epic tale of one girl’s courage and will to survive, Anaxandra learns that home is where you make it and identity goes deeper than just your name.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I luuurves me some Greek retellings and I heard good things about this one.
Anaxandra is six years old when King Nicander comes to the small island of her childhood and takes her away as a tribute and to be a companion to his sickly daughter Callisto. Unable to ever return to her family, Anaxandra comes to feel at home at Siphnos and to love her adopted family and for six years life goes unchanged. Until pirates attack the island and Anaxandra is the sole survivor. She is then rescued by King Menelaus of Sparta and afraid to be taken as a slave, she assumes the identity of Princess Callisto and because of that she is welcomed with opens arm into his household. Except that is, for his wife Helen, who doesn’t believe Callisto’s story and becomes a constant danger to Anaxandra. When Paris, the youngest spoiled son of the powerful city of Troy comes to visit, he and Helen fall in love with each other and leave Sparta for Troy. But Helen doesn’t go alone, she takes hers and Menelaus’ youngest son and is bent on taking their daughter Hermione as well. But Anaxandra who has come to love Menelaus’ family will do anything to protect the children and assumes once again, the identity of another person. In Troy, at the brink of the upcoming war Anaxandra will find herself having to choose sides.
I have been in the mood for historical fiction lately and I quite enjoyed Goddess of Yesterday both because of its ancient Greece setting and connection to the Trojan War but also because of its resilient main character, Anaxandra. Anaxandra is a creation of this author but I liked how the minor role she comes to play in the Trojan War is one that could have been. Taking care of Helen’s youngest child Pleisthenes and protecting him from Helen’s carelessness and Paris’ murderous intentions becomes Anaxandra’s main mission whilst in Troy. Oh, how I loved the author’s choice of portraying both Helen and Paris as dangerous, self-serving, egotistical, loathsome people.
The plot moves forward with increasing tension with the combination of Anaxandra always scared of being found a liar, Pleisthenes’ life in danger and the inevitable war looming in the horizon. The Trojans’ belief that they are unbeatable and the knowledge I had of how things turn out to be only made this story all the best to be read – especially when Anaxandra becomes friends with Hector, his future wife and his sister Cassandra (poor Cassandra) .
Anaxandra is the sort of character whose rebellion – if we can call it that – is that of the quietly reflexive kind and her main skill is her ability to adapt and to forgive in order to survive. I admit that at times, I felt a bit frustrated by how easily she would find herself being extremely sympathetic to “her kings”: Nicander, Menelaus and Priam but to be honest, this felt true to the character. She is quite perceptive as well and her narrative is full of keen observations about life in Ancient Greece– from the different ways of life in the different places, the different languages, and customs not to mention the horrid reality of slavery and violence throughout. I also loved how the Gods and Goddess are portrayed as being an intrinsic part of everybody’s everyday lives including people’s belief that their fate was completely on their Gods’ hands. Would I have preferred to see Anaxandra raging against being the plaything of Gods and Goddesses? Yes. But it made sense that she accepted it, and prayed and hoped her Goddess of Yesterday would be fair to her when other Gods weren’t fair or good to other people. Plus, it’s not like she just sat there and waited for things to happen as she took an active role – lies and all – to survive. I loved that.
Goddess of Yesterday is a short yet fulfilling story and I enjoyed reading it very much. I hear this author has a huge backlist – any recommendations about what I should read next?
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
I was six years old when King Nicander came to the island of my birth, demanding tribute and a hostage. I did not know what a hostage was, nor tribute. The king was taller than Father. His oiled beard jutted from his chin like a spear point. His arms were hard and tanned, his eyes twinkling. I liked him right away. “So you are Alexandra,” said Nicander. I corrected a king. “Not Alexandra. Anaxandra.” His eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled. “Anaxandra, you are coming for a sail with me. You will be companion to my daughter, Callisto.” A sail? I was so excited I hardly bothered to kiss my parents goodbye. My brothers got to go to sea and have adventure, but I always had to stay home with Mother. And I had never met a princess. Callisto means “the fairest,” just the right name for a princess, the way Anaxandra was just the right name for me. Mother packed some clothes and my fleeces and put my doll in a box, which I hugged to my chest. I had never owned a box, and Mother kept jewelry in this one. It was heavy, which meant she had left some jewels in it. I would have a guest-gift for the princess. An officer sat me on his shoulders and off we went. I never looked back at my brothers, standing in a row, silent and envious, and I never waved to my parents. Our village was perched a thousand feet above the sea. The path to the harbor tilted steeply. I clung to the officer’s neck so I wouldn’t fall off. “What’s your name?” I asked. He peeled my fingers from his throat so he could breathe. “Lykos.” This means “wolf,” which made me think of my puppy. I had named her Seaweed, because when she romped in the water, she came out hung with green fronds. I almost told Lykos we had to go back and get Seaweed, but I remembered that I would be home by bedtime to tell Seaweed all about it. The sailor carrying my clothes and fleece said to Lykos, “Why didn’t the king take sons for hostages? A little girl isn’t going to make Chrysaor double his tribute.” Chrysaor was my father’s name; it had the word for gold in it. My mother’s name was Iris, which means “rainbow.” The king caught up to us. He tugged on my long curls and told me I had hair as red as King Menelaus. I had never heard of King Menelaus. “A girl as hostage?” said Lykos to the king. “Chrysaor needs his sons to pirate with him,” said the king of Siphnos, “but his daughter he loves. He’ll obey me for her sake.”
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: The Rebel Wife by Taylor M. Polites
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