Hand of Fire

Written by Judith Starkston
Review by Kristina Blank Makansi

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. Briseis, like her mother before her, is the healing priestess of Kamrusepa and is betrothed to Mynes, the arrogant, hot-headed son of the king of Lyrnessos, ally of Troy. When rumors of Greek raiding parties arrive and with war looming, Briseis and Mynes wed, and Briseis’ worst fears are confirmed when her husband brutalizes and demeans her. But when war actually does come, Mynes’ father commands him to stay home and guard the city. When Achilles leads a raiding party to Lyrnessos, Mynes foolishly opens the gate and rushes out to fight, only to be quickly slain by Achilles himself. With the city destroyed, Briseis steps up to protect her one remaining brother, a fellow healer, and, with her bravery and beauty, captivates Achilles, who claims her as a war prize.

Although the story quickly picked up speed, I found the first few chapters a bit repetitive to the point where I wanted to say, “Okay, I get it. She’s a healing priestess serving a healing goddess just like her mother.” But the editorial nitpicks were easily set aside as 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.