“Patroklos, far most pleasing to my heart in its sorrows, I left you here alive when I went away from the shelter, but now I come back, lord of the people, to find you have fallen. So evil in my life takes over from evil forever. The husband on whom my father and honored mother bestowed me I saw before my city lying torn with the sharp bronze, and my three brothers, whom a single mother bore with me and who were close to me, all went on one day to destruction. And yet you would not let me, when swift Achilles had cut down my husband, and sacked the city of godlike Mynes, you would not let me sorrow, but said you would make me godlike Achilles’ wedded lawful wife, that you would take me back in the ships to Pythia, and formalize my marriage among the Myrmidons. Therefore I weep your death without ceasing. You were kind always.”
In Homer’s The Iliad, these are the only lines spoken by Briseis, Achilles’ love, and considered his wife. As you can clearly see, Homer left out a lot about a woman who changed the course of human civilization. Judith Starkston has corrected that mistake.
With the publication of Hand of Fire, Starkston has finally placed Briseis in her rightful place in history. Beginning as a healing priestess, our heroine soon finds herself in peril when she is taken captive after her family is killed in an attack. A woman who should have every reason to hate Achilles finds a way to love him, and those feelings become mutual.
We see Achilles and Patroklos’ close friendship, and how Patroklos was the only one who truly knew Achilles for who he truly was. When Patroklos was killed in battle, Achilles is inconsolable. This is the point when Briseis and Achilles begin to love each other, and she is able to peek through the veil of the immortal hero to see how human Achilles really is.
Throughout Hand of Fire, we see the progression of the romance between our heroes. The conclusion of the novel hits the reader very hard, when Achilles comes to realize that his fate is sealed and he is taken from this world so devastatingly. By this point, they consider each other spouses, and their love is cut down at its apex.
Hand of Fire is a truly amazing novel. Starkston executes the romance between Briseis and Achilles without letting it get too sappy or lose real, human emotion. Starkston interprets the Iliad the same way I do, with Achilles being a truly kind man with human emotions and flaws, rather than being a selfish, violent man like some believe. No matter what, though, Starkston has created two protagonists that all readers can relate to, with cares and emotions, love and betrayal. These two characters are shown so human-like, it allows us to peer behind the curtain of heroism to see how they really were, just like Briseis did when she found love with Achilles.
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.
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, 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.
Praise For Hand of Fire
“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
“Suspenseful, tragic, surprising and sexy” –Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice
“In Hand of Fire, Judith Starkston frees Briseis from the actions of Achilles and Agamemnon and gives her the power to become the heroine of her own story. … Starkston does a lovely job of bringing the characters to life, and her descriptions of the religious rites, the scenery of Mount Ida, and life as a woman of privilege in the ancient world put me firmly in the story. The love story between Briseis and Achilles is well-rendered, as are Briseis’ relationships with her father and brothers, her nurse, and the other women in the city and in the camp. A wonderful new take on a timeless story.” –Historical Novels Review
“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
“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 and 9 other Prioress Eleanor mysteries
“Starkston breathes new life into an age-old tale in this masterful retelling of the Iliad. The reader experiences the terror, bravery and heartbreak of Briseis who now takes center stage in one of the most famous love triangles of all time.” Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice
“Absolutely loved the book. Couldn’t put it down. Wonderful writing. And, I see no errors whatsoever as regards the history.” –Professor Eric Cline, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, George Washington University
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