Friday, November 14, 2014

Hand of Fire - Review


Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston is a historical fiction set before and during the Trojan War. The story focuses on Breisis, a priestess of the healing goddess Kamrusepa, and the woman who came between Achilles and Agamemnon. Breisis, who earned only a few lines in Homer's Illiad, is brought to light in Hand of Fire. Starkston both expands and expounds the history and character of Breisis, giving her a whole new form, dimension and depth.

Hand of Fire opens with Breisis's mother on her death bed, and the priestess praying to their goddess to extend her life. However, her prayers are not answered. Breisis follows in her mother's footsteps but cannot seem to grasp all of her mother's faith, devotion and abilities. Breisis is devoted but not like her mother, making her feel incompetent at times.
Despite prolonged delays, the inevitable happens: Breisis weds Mynes, to whom she has been betrothed since birth; a dreadful marriage to a soon-to-be dreadful ruler. Mynes is rash, brutal and blood-thirsty, which is his doom, and to which the reader and Breisis are equally thankful.

Breisis is a healer and the bards tell of the great warrior Achilles as being an unchallenged fighter and healer. Breisis and Achilles collide in their first meeting. Things progress slowly but interestingly. There is a constant ebb and flow between these two characters.

Breisis is truly a strong woman and character. However, her selflessness goes beyond the limits of human behaviour, in my opinion at least, making her both caring and annoying at times.

Hand of Fire is about Breisis; it focuses on her and her alone. The novel does not stray from the priestess to any other character throughout, which is quite interesting actually. Her character development is slow but nicely weaved. The novel is full of ups and downs that are all well-thought of to bring Breisis to the finale, to one last decision.

There are many other likeable characters in Hand of Fire. Achilles' best friend Patroklos is wise, calming, kind and above all loyal beyond measure. He is also one of few who can calm Achilles' fire. Also, one of the most beautiful speeches in the novel is said by Patroklos. "Each of you holds the comfort the other most needs. You are meant for each other. Even the men see that: your height, your hair colour and the divine poise you share. I see more than that. I see inside you: the same gifts, the same fire. Only you can heal each other… You have a fire whose strength can quiet his fire. Imagine. Fire dampened by fire…" (p. 163)

Eurome, Breisis's maid, is an intelligent and caring companion and friend and essential character in the novel. She is a source of rumours and comedy in the novel. After Eurome's first ride in the ship, and after a bout of seasickness, she says "Oh my stars and fishes, if we was meant for seagoing, the gods would gave us fins and scales." (p. 155)

The elemental imagery, particularly the fire imagery, that accompanies Breisis and Achilles is exemplary. "He was made of fire and water. When they joined together, she was filled with feelings far beyond the capacity of her spirit and body to contain – pleasure and delight, pain and despair also, fiercest bonding, radiating out from her in dancing flames." (p. 217). There is plenty more but I cannot quote it all.

The daughter of a historian, Starkston weaves a tale that would linger and leave a mark with every reader.

Hand of Fire is by far the best historical-fiction novel, and novel in general, that I have read in a while. It is a must-read and I certainly plan on rereading it again in the near future for I could not get enough of it.

A 10-star book!