Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Winged Girl of Knossos, by Erick Berry (pseud. Allena Best)

Every blog entry I've managed to find reviewing this book mentions how rare and difficult to find it is, what an awesome book it is, and how it really needs to be reprinted because it's a shame that it can't be widely read. I wholeheartedly agree on all counts!

Winged Girl takes place in ancient Crete during the Minoan period. Although the names of many of the places and people will be recognizable from mythology, the author has taken great pains to tell a story that is realistic fiction, so she's created a world where the origins of these tales are placed in a likely context.

The protagonist of this story is Inas, the daughter of Diadalos (Daedalus, as we're familiar with him today). Counter to the mythology surrounding him, he does not have any other children or family in this story. Inas is a butt-kicking female protagonist- she enjoys the company of sponge-fishermen and often dives herself just for sport. A true athlete, she is among the few chosen for the public spectacle of bull-vaulting. And she loves that her father is experimenting with flight, despite the fears of the ignorant villagers that it is akin to black magic. Although Minos, the king, would prefer that Daedalus not experiment in this way, he values Daedalus' clever scientific mind and often calls upon him in the palace. Because of this proximity to royalty, Inas has become a close friend of the princess Ariadne.

Inas' other close friend Kadmos has recently returned to Crete after a voyage abroad. Kadmos is glad to be home and is concerned that Minos has grown too secure in his own power- much of Knossos is unfortified and he worries that when all of the strong men are away exploring or collecting tributes, the island is vulnerable. This time, the returning ships have brought a number of valuable gifts, as well as a number of Greek tribute slaves (it is interesting to note here that in this story, the Cretans consider themselves the superior culture and the Greeks barbaric). Among these tributes is a tall, proud man named Theseus. Ariadne sees him and is immediately smitten.

This lays the groundwork for the remainder of the story, which I will not spoil. The book has wonderful period-inspired illustrations drawn by the author herself, and other recognizable mythological elements to the story include the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, Ariadne's thread and Daedalus' escape to Sicily, although their appearance in the story is very different from how you may remember these tales in mythology. This was a very creative tale, from some one who clearly did her homework, given the list of references in the back of the book.

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