Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons
(Young Heroes #2)
by Jane Yolen and Robert K. Harris
List Price: $15.95
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover - 256 pages (March 5, 2002)
HarperCollins Juvenile Books; ISBN: 0060287365

Review by EJ McClure
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Hippolyta, thirteen-year-old daughter of a queen of the Amazons, was schooled in the arts of war like all the other girls of her city. Quick with both her wit and her weapons, she is bold and high-spirited. She refuses to back down from challenges, even if it means fighting a duel with Molpadia, an older girl who has already completed her Long Mission, the Amazon's traditional rite of passage. The duel is interrupted by a messenger urgently summoning Hippolyta back to the palace, where she learns to her dismay that her mother Otrere has born a second son.

Odysseus in the Serpent Maze (Young Heroes #1) by Jane Yolen, Robert J. Harris

Forget the Cliff Notes version of the Odyssey, Yolen and Harris have come up with a much more lively account of how Odysseus, along with courageous friends like Penelope (who gets upgraded to being a heroine in her own right, huzzah!)  go on the epic voyage of Greek lore. 

By Amazon tradition, a queen's first son is sent to his father, to be reared in the world of men. If she is unlucky enough to bear a second son, however, she must sacrifice him; Apollo has foretold that the second son born to a queen would be the cause of the death of all the Amazons. Valasca, the war leader of the Amazons, demands that the baby boy be sacrificed to Artimis, their patron goddess, to avert the curse. Otrere stubbornly refuses to surrender her baby to the alter, even though it means that she must give up her queenship and become Valasca's prisoner.

No longer royal and privileged, Hippolyta is separated from her younger sisters and sent to live in the communal barracks. She does not mind the hardship for herself, but she worries about her mother, and her little sisters. Otrere intrigues to free Hippolyta, and charges her with making the long and dangerous journey to deliver her baby brother safely to his father Laomedon, King of Troy.

Laomedon is not impressed with this gift, nor with the impulsively outspoken Hippolyta, and in short order the teenager finds herself in a Trojan prison, under a death sentence for her rash impudence. The only person who shows interest in her fate is Tithonus, Laomedon's older son by Otrere. Tithonus is consumed with curiosity about the mother he has never met, and this outlandish half-sister who has so disrupted life in the Trojan palace. Hippolyta rudely scorns him; he's just a child, a scholarly boy who will never make a warrior. Much to her dismay, she soon realizes that Tithonus is the only one who can save her.

No sooner does he free Hippolyta than she must save him in turn from the fate King Laomedon intended for her. They escape together, and begin the long journey back to the land of the Amazon, a trip Hippolyta finds terribly tedious: Tithonus is a chatterbox, unschooled in the wilderness survival, hopelessly inept in combat. But he is clever in his own way, and in the course of their adventures she grudgingly learns to respect him. Respect turns slowly to affection, and when she finds that Tithonus must be sacrificed to save the Amazons from the curse, she is dismayed. Can she learn to use her wits instead of her fists to save them both, and their people, from the curse of the jealous Apollo and his capricious sister Artemis?

This fast-paced adventure story is rightly billed as juvenile fiction. Written in Yolen's trademark concise, straight-forward style, it would be an easy read for the average 9-12 year-old. I was curious about how Yolen would handle some of the thorny issues inherent in mythology, such as human sacrifice and the lifestyle of the Amazons, who seek a man only when they wish to bear a child, and was delighted to find that she managed those key plot elements deftly, in a manner appropriate for young readers in today's complex world.

Yolen and Harris do an admirable job grounding their story in the Mycenaean civilization that flourished during the Bronze Age, and their Amazons are drawn more from archaeological evidence than from legend. As a consequence, Hippolyta and her family are believable characters with understandable motivations, living in a functional agrarian society. These realistic elements make the fantastical more believable. Various gods appear at critical turning points in the story just as they do in Greek mythology. They trick people with disguises, test their merit, and then dole out curses and blessings. Hippolyta has all the usual vices of the protagonist of an adventure tale: she is arrogant, stubborn, short-tempered and impulsive. In the course of the story, she must learn temperance, patience and generosity, virtues much admired by the Greeks. Though this story clearly has a moral lesson, Yolen avoids being preachy by letting the action convey the message. This new addition to the Young Heroes (which began with Odysseus in the Serpent Maze) series is sure to delight girls of all ages in search of action heroes with whom they can identify.

2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu