In Helming’s debut fantasy novel, a California teenager is sent to her godfather in Greece, where she learns startling news about her true destiny.
“Strong women aren’t simply born. We are forged through the fires of life.” These words from her mother, Diana, have inspired Helene Crawford, almost 18, to be resilient. She’ll need this trait when she gets the terrible news that Diana has been killed, most likely by arson. Helene, meanwhile, barely escapes from a murder attempt and learns that she must leave California, go to Athens, and live with her legal guardian until she’s 21. (Helene has no known father, having been conceived in vitro.) Just as startling, several indications lead Helene to believe her mother is still alive. In Greece, she attends her new school, where she suffers the usual new-girl problems and weighs the attentions of two attractive young men. But odd events keep happening, and Helene discovers she has the key to a portal that leads to Gaea, a strange land—one she’s dreamed about—where the tyrannical Greek gods now live. She discovers information about her mother and learns of a prophecy: one day the Protogena will be born from a virgin goddess and help overthrow Zeus, restoring harmony. As Helene struggles to understand and control new powers, she strikes the first blows against Zeus in what promises to be a long war. Helming intelligently sets figures from Greek myth amid the modern-day Greek debt crisis to comment on greed, hubris, and how ordinary people survive. She offers complexity of detail and adventure with intriguing tie-ins to mythology and science. Nevertheless, many ingredients are familiar: an emotional teenager who seems ordinary but is chosen for a special purpose; a portal to another land; two romantic choices; and wish-fulfillment largesse, such as the portal transforming Helene into a perfect physical specimen. Helene notes that she’s comfortable with herself at last, an unfortunate message for girls: only flawlessness can permit positive self-esteem.
First in a planned series, this fantasy adventure relies on well-known tropes, but its complexities intrigue.