Title: Helena’s Choice
Author: Patty Apsotolides
Genre: Historical Fiction
This novel tells the story of Helena Cadfield, the daughter of a physician and amateur archeologist, and Aristotle Mastoras, a Greek expert of antiquities who recently returned to his homeland in hopes of rebuilding his home and restoring many of Greece’s classical treasures to the nation.
Helena inherits her family’s property in Greece upon her father’s death, but she’s living in England and has no way to claim it. Her distant cousins are eager to have her off their hands, either by marriage or employment, and though she’s approached by one of her father’s old pupils, Dr. Murphy, no marriage proposal is made, and she soon takes a position as a governess.
But she longs to visit Greece and investigate the hoard of riches her father wrote about, ancient treasures he found on their property and died trying to unearth. When the family she’s working for travels to Greece, she agrees to go along and continue teaching their daughter, hoping for a chance to visit the land at last.
Unknown to her, Dr. Mastoras has been asked to continue the excavation on her property for the archeological society of Greece. With no owner, the state will soon claim the land, and he’s eager to find more of the treasures and protect them from bandits and anyone else who would take them.
Soon, he and Helena are working side-by-side, but they seem to find only pottery shards and metal tools, nothing like the golden cup her father found. Worse, Helena finds herself drawn to Dr. Mastoras—but she already has Dr. Murphy waiting for her back in England. Should she follow her heart, or will the dictates of propriety keep her from finding the happiness she dreams about?
This story is set primarily in Greece and England in the 1830s, just after Greece won its independence. The country is struggling, and the novel beautifully portrays the people’s pride, poverty, and determination to regain their lost homes and culture.
However, the portions set in England seem sadly jumbled where historical accuracy is concerned. Characters freely mention their connections to the working class, and Helena’s nanny not only owns a silk dress but has a daughter rich enough to host a masquerade ball. The trappings of the 19th century can feel like a veneer to a story that could’ve been set almost anytime, at least when one is in England—in Greece, there is a far greater sense of time and place.
The story’s pacing is realistic rather than dramatic, and overall, the plot is comfortable, something one can slip into without being jolted or surprised. The characters are varied and believable, generating interest even when the historical details falter, and the romantic passages are balanced with the mystery about Helena’s treasures—whether they’ll find them and how they’ll keep them from being stolen.
Imaginative and colorful, this novel will appeal to readers looking for a unique setting to a historical novel. It’s Indiana Jones meets the first half of the 19th century, with strong characters and an intriguing plot.
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