In her first historical novel, Elyot, an actress whose real name is Leslie Carroll, tells the story of the Trojan War, including its causes and its aftermath, from Helen’s viewpoint.
The daughter of Leda and Zeus, Helen never feels accepted by her stepfather, the Spartan king Tyndareus, especially after Leda’s suicide. While her jealous older sister Clytemnestra worships power, pretty Helen is a sensualist who secretly worships “The Great Mother” and ancient deities her mother told her about. When Clytemnestra marries and has a baby, she softens with newfound love until brutish, power-hungry Agamemnon, the novel’s villain, kills Clytemnestra’s first husband and child so he can consolidate his political control by marrying Clytemnestra himself. Meanwhile, Thesues, Prince of Athens, kidnaps 14-year-old Helen for a ransom. Despite a large age difference, she falls deeply in love with him before her brothers “rescue” her, unaware that she is pregnant with Theseus’s child. Helen secretly bears a daughter, Iphigenia, and gives her to Clytemnestra to raise as her own. Then Tyndareus marries her off to Agamemnon’s younger brother Menelaus thanks to some wheeling and dealing by wily Odysseus, who has his own objectives. Helen tries to be a good wife although she finds Menelaus hard to know and lacking in passion. While he occasionally shows flashes of statesmanship, he is usually a toady, jumping to his brother’s bidding. By the time Paris drops by Menelaus’s court, Agamemnon is already hungry for the rich trading outpost of Troy. When Helen deserts Menelaus and their children to run off with Paris, she gives him an excuse to put together an army and attack Troy. With the exception of saintly Hector, Helen’s take on the heroes and villains of the war are often at odds with Homer’s version. She depicts Achilles as a vicious rapist, for instance, and is less than warm toward the Trojan women.
In this People magazine version of the Greek classic, Helen is too self-justifying to be trustworthy and not charming enough to cause a war—or carry a novel.