For the Most Beautiful: A Novel of the Trojan War
For the most Beautiful is the first book in début author Emily Hauser’s Golden Apple trilogy. Per the Author’s Note in the back of the book, Ms. Hauser took her inspiration from Homer’s epic poem, the Iliad, although her aim is not to reinvent the story, but to provide motivation, thoughts, and feelings for the female characters in the poem. Unfortunately, neither one of the female leads is interesting enough for this approach to work, and the result is yet another regurgitation of a story we’ve all heard a hundred times before.
Krisayis, daughter of the High Priest of Troy, is young, beautiful, and none too happy to have her future mapped out for her. Her father wants her to take the vow to become High Priestess when she turns sixteen. Krisayis, of course, has other plans – plans that don’t include living a chaste and loveless life in the temple of Apulunas, but everything to do with handsome Prince Troilus, with whom she’s been enjoying a romp in the hay whenever she can sneak him into her bedchamber unobserved.
Princess Briseis of Pedasus is young, beautiful, and in desperate need of a husband. Five years ago, when Briseis was fifteen, the storm god Zayu prophesied that “he who seeks Briseis’ bed shall then her brothers three behead.” Since then, the prophecy has scared away all of her suitors. It isn’t until six months earlier, when another message from the storm god nullified the prophecy, that Briseis became desirable as a marriage prospect again. When Prince Mynes of Lyrnessus offers Briseis his hand in marriage, she is ecstatic. Prince Mynes is younger than most of her past suitors, but Briseis can very well imagine herself being happy by the side of the handsome young man.
Both Krisayis’ and Briseis’ lives change unexpectedly when Prince Paris of Troy returns from a diplomatic mission to Sparta with his new bride Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Lord Menelaus, Helen’s former husband, swears vengeance, and his brother, King Agamemnon, and a contingent of Greek lords soon have Troy surrounded by their huge armies. Amid all the chaos, Prince Troilus sneaks Krisayis outside of the city walls to ask her to run away with him because his father has refused to let them marry. Not wanting to turn her back on the city she loves, Krisayis declines Troilus’ offer. But before they can return to the city, Krisayis and Troilus are discovered by the Greek patrols. In the aftermath, Troilus is killed and Krisayis is taken back to the Greek camp to serve as King Agamemnon’s personal slave.
Meanwhile, Briseis and Prince Mynes’ blissful honeymoon is cut short when the Greeks raid Lyrnessus, one of Troy’s neighboring cities. The Greek raiding party is led by Achilles, a fearsome and immoral warrior. After a short battle, Achilles is able to kill Prince Mynes and claim Briseis as his war prize.
With For the Most Beautiful, the author aims to give its readers an insight into the lives and loves of the two women who set the plot of the Iliad in motion, but it doesn’t really work because of the underdeveloped characters and the hackneyed plotting. Briseis and Krisayis are both young, beautiful, and desired by mortal and gods alike, but beyond that, there is not much to them. Instead of exploring real emotions and the hardships these women face during a time when women were often considered nothing more than property to be used as a bargaining chip, the author opts to focus on plot elements worthy of a Disney after-school special. As Krisayis tiptoes around the Greek camp collecting information she can pass back to the Trojans, Briseis spends her days fighting her growing attraction to Achilles. Since neither one of these plotlines is executed particularly well – Krisayis’ spying attempts lack suspense and Briseis’ attraction to a man who has committed unspeakable crimes against her family is baffling – I had a hard time caring about what happened to either one of them
Other familiar figures from Greek mythology make cursory appearances. The fates of Achilles, Hector, Ajax, and Paris are laid out in a series of vignettes that hasten the story along but do nothing to round out these thinly-sketched characters. Plot contortions are also par for the course, as it seems more important to stay true to the well-known events than to have the characters act in a logical manner or in a way that is consistent with the world building. Both Krisayis and Briseis spend a good portion of the book doing things that will ultimately have no impact on the outcome of the war or their own fates. Briseis’ final act of defiance, in particular, is so pointless that instead of applauding her for her courage, I found myself shaking my head at her stupidity.
This being the first book in a planned trilogy, I had expected some questions to be left unanswered and some loose ends untied. Still, I was unprepared for how abruptly For the Most Beautiful ends, right in the middle of the war and with the fates of the principal players enumerated in a one page epilogue. The book did show some promise at the beginning, with the author’s lush and vivid description of the ancient world; and the depiction of all the gods from Mt. Olympus and their antics are mildly amusing. Those elements enabled the book to receive a satisfactory grade in spite of the problems with the characterization and plotting. If you are someone new to this famous chapter of Greek mythology, you may find For the Most Beautiful worth a look. But if you are someone who boasts even a passing familiarity with the events of the Iliad, you are not going to find anything here that has not been better told elsewhere.