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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2002
As far as I'm concerned, Marion Zimmer Bradley is the master of injecting new life into old stories. Her retelling of the Arthur legend, The Mists of Avalon, is a phenomenal book (as anyone who has read it will tell you, if they have any sense!).
In The Firebrand, Marion Zimmer Bradley takes on the Iliad of Homer. The story is told mostly from the point of view of Kassandra, prophetess of Troy and sister to Paris, son of Priam who spirited Helen away from Sparta and became the catalyst for the 10-year-long Trojan War.
Many wonderful details make the characters, like the Amazons or the Kentaurs, amazingly human and real. Ms. Bradley has an enviable gift that makes her readers care about each and every one of her characters. At the center of the story lies a conflict, embodied in Kassandra herself, between the Earth Goddess and the newer Greek gods, like Apollo and Athena. As in the Iliad, the gods seem to meddle in everything, fathering children or bringing down plagues.
I really enjoyed this book because it puts a new spin on the old story and gives the female characters attention that they well deserve. Kassandra is a strong, consistent character, struggling with her vows of chastity to the free-worker Apollo and the Sight given to her by the Earth Goddess. For angering Apollo, Kassandra is cursed with seeing terrible things and having no one believe her. Helen, the wife Paris stole from the Spartan king Menaleus(sp?), is also well-developed as a character. She does, however, remind me strikingly of Gwenhyfar from The Mists of Avalon. Besides having the face that launched a thousand ships, Helen has the sort of strength that inspires admiration even in the unwilling. She, too, like Kassandra, is a pawn of the gods. Other strong women, like the Amazon Queen and Andromache, prove that the war was not fought by the soldiers alone.
Surprisingly scary, Akhilles(spelled scarily, too!) along with Agamemnon are Troy's, and Kassandra's, greatest enemies. Aeneas, the future founder of Rome,is a rather unlikely, but extremely likable, romantic hero. Pretty much the only nice man in the book...where Kassandra is concerned, anyway!
I will say that the plot really seemed to fragment toward the end. I liked the writing, but I felt that the storyline lacked the strength of the previous parts of the book. There are, however, a few delectable and - for readers familiar with the Iliad and the Odyssey - unexpected surprises in store.
As a sort of halting scholar of the Ancient Greek language wrestling with my first attempts at translating Homer, The Firebrand provided me with inspiration and gave me a more personal attachment to the characters, for which I am extremely grateful. It's obvious to me that Ms. Bradley is an extremely well-researched writer, who has a wonderful creative vision that makes the Iliad her own, while at the same time it remains the same wonderful story. Anyone who likes these sort of legend retellings should read this book! And then recommend it to a friend!
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I began reading Marion Zimmer Bradley my sophomore year of high school when my english teacher (surprisingly) assigned the book at summer reading. Now I know a lot of people have read The Mists of Avalon, especially because of the tv movie, but if you are able to get a hold on this book, I strongly suggest it. It is almost the same as The Mists of Avalon, but set in mythical Troy instead of Camelot. We see through Kassandra's eyes, the prophetess cursed by the god Apollo. Just The Mists of Avalon, this book is also a feminist view in a male-dominated world. We see Hector, Achilles, Priam, Agamemnon, Paris and Menalaus, but they are not the heroes of the war. Intead, Bradley makes the women Kassandra, Hecuba, Andromache, Helen and the warrior Amazons the heroes. I really liked this book more than The Mists of Avalon, and it got me interested in Ancient Greece. If you like The Mists of Avalon and can find a copy of this book (because it is unfortunately out of print), I would suggest that you try this one. :)
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
I'm not a huge fan of Marion Zimmer Bradley, but the Trojan War is one of my favourite subjects, and I was curious to see how it could be told from a singular, feminine point of view - in this case, Princess Kassandra of Troy, tragically famous for her accurate predictions of doom that no one believed. "The Firebrand" is told with Bradley's trademark style; a strong feminist streak (that can become a little too heavy-handed at times), and her fresh spin on an ancient legend, a technique that brought Bradley into the public eye with her best known novel The Mists of Avalon.

"The Firebrand" follows the life of Kassandra of Troy from childhood to the fall of her city at the hands of the Akhaians, and the details of her life in-between, significantly her relationships with her family members and her struggles with her gift/curse of prophesy. Oddly enough, Bradley does not instigate the Trojan War into the story until nearly halfway through the book, filling the pages instead with Kassandra's growth into a young woman, her tutelage under the Amazon Penthesilea, various love affairs (of the wanted and unwanted variety) and the rituals of a priestess's life. Amongst all this, the war seems almost arbitrary, and several of the most important aspects (such as the deaths in the royal family) are glossed over with little to no emotional resonance. This may be disappointing to some, so be warned: "The Firebrand" is mainly interested in the life and times of Kassandra - even though the title directly refers to Paris, here portrayed as Kassandra's twin brother.

Kassandra is a well-drawn character, willful yet sensible, passionate yet contained, and in a clever twist Bradley makes it clear that it is not just her prophecies that make her somewhat of a pariah amongst her family, but her modernist streak as well. She certainly comes across as a woman living outside of her own time, and yet she never feels anything but entirely natural in her attitudes and relationships - even though some of these relationships are established early on in the text, only to be ignored later on. Other characters are less convincing than Kassandra, (such as Andromache, whose personality seems to change with each appearance), or ultimately inconsequential, such as Bradley's original characters Khryse and Chryseis, who are introduced only to serve no real purpose in the overarching plot.

Other times, the storytelling is often just plain sloppy: Kassandra periodically has visions of her brother Paris, but we are told at the end of chapter six that: "Paris was gone, this time beyond any recall at her command. She did not see him again for a long time." The following chapter picks up a few weeks later, in which Kassandra is once again engaged in watching her brother from afar.

As usual, Bradley's greatest weakness is her feminist streak, which can get so overwrought at times that it becomes an irritating strain on the credibility of the story's integrity. The key to any strong female protagonist is *not* to surround her with thuggish, block-headed caricatures of men, but to have her hold her own against men that are just as worthy of respect in their own right. Bradley clearly does not grasp this theory, as practically every male in the book is foolish, lecherous, arrogant or all three. Strengthening female characters by vilifying all the male ones, is in itself a weak way to portray convincing characters - not to mention robbing any sense of poignancy or emotion from the fates of Paris, Hector, Priam and Akhilles. The way Bradley writes it, we should be glad they all meet with tragedy.

Likewise, Kassandra (and though her Bradley) holds a hefty amount of distain to any woman who displays devotion to her spouse. From insisting that children belong to their mothers instead of their fathers (it seems to have escaped her notice that children could belong to *both* parents), mocking any woman who is content with being a wife and mother, and insinuating that the Trojan War would have never started had they all lived in a matriarchal society, Bradley pushes her feminist agenda so far that even this liberal female gender-studies student got tired of it.

This is unfortunately not my only grievance. What begins as an interesting insight in the gods and how they interact with mankind (beginning with the conception of Helen between Zeus and Leda) eventually becomes a muddled portrayal of gods and their influence over mankind. With Bradley attempting to rationalize some aspects of Greek legend, such as the Kentaurs and the snake-hair of Medusa, it seems odd that the gods would appear at all. However, at various points in the text, Kassandra communicates and witnesses various gods at work. Although Bradley opens up an interesting commentary on how the gods *might* work, their arbitrary appearances and her awkward insertion of a "goddess-mother" (who bears no resemblance to any god in the Greek pantheon) renders the portrayal confusing. Whatever her point was, it is lost in the contradictions and omissions in the text.

Although I enjoyed the character of Kassandra, and the unique twists that Bradley inserts into the original legend of Troy (such as an interesting portrayal of Odysseus and a different figure responsible for the death of Akhilles), there is something missing from this retelling: a clear sense of the context in which Kassandra's personal journey takes place. Although she remains consistent, the lack of interest in the war itself and the inconsistency in both the portrayal of the gods and those closest to Kassandra mean that the story feels...incomplete. It's almost like we've only seen a tiny portion of the experiences that shape who this woman really is. Despite several positive aspects, I'd recommend giving this Trojan retelling a miss and trying Goddess of Yesterday, another look at how a young woman is shaped by her experience both as a woman and a participant of the Trojan War.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2000
While I am somewhat familiar with modern science fiction and fantasy, I had never read anything by Marion Zimmer Bradley before "The Firebrand"---which I came to through my wife, who knows of my interest in ancient Greek literature. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Bradley is a wonderfully vivid writer, and her "take" on the Trojan War seems well within the bounds of logic and creative license. Kassandra herself is a fully three-dimensional character and I found myself caring about her, even as I already knew (as does any reader of "The Iliad") what was going to happen. Indeed, this novel is a great example of how much more important character is than plot---all major events are telegraphed well before they happen, yet Bradley holds the reader's interest anyway. It is not a question of *what* will happen, but *how.*
Unlike some male readers on this page, the feminist slant didn't bother me; there were a few speeches which seemed a tad anachronistic, yes, but these are minor, and on the whole Kassandra's perceptions seem very believable for a woman of her personality and time. One aspect of the novel which did disappoint me, however---and the reason I give the novel four stars rather than five---is the Epilogue, which unfortunately drops us down to the level of romance-novel writing. Having a new male character suddenly appear, deus ex machina-style, to walk off into the sunset with Kassandra at the very end, seems jarringly out of place. For me, the novel would have been ended much more strongly a few pages before, at the point that Kassandra is beginning her journey to Colchis. The story is over then; it really doesn't matter whether she ever arrives at Colchis or not. The point is, she is finally her own woman, and will live or die on her own terms.
But in a 560-page novel, this is a quibble. Overall "The Firebrand" is a wonderful novel, highly recommended to anyone with any interest in Greek literature or mythology. But be forewarned: the story is so engrossing that you may have to cancel prior engagements in order to finish it!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
THE FIREBRAND is an excellent and exciting book ! The story is written through the
eyes of the prophetess, Kassandra. She is the daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba. It explores events right before the Trojan War began.
Greek mythology starts WAY before the Olympian Gods.The Olympian myths are basically revisionist history,
where the original Goddesses are made into daughters, wives and sisters.

There is growing evidence of Goddess Mystery cultures from Asian Minor, pre-Minoan Crete central Europe and Eur-Asia and many other parts of the world,, of advanced civilizations and cultures ruled by women who worshipped the Dark Goddess.

The Firebrand, is about the Trojan War. It is about the tragedy of
the surpression of matrilineal Goddess civiliations and cultures. The destruction caused by Greek armies and the rise of the Sky Gods. Goddesses once were the source of Mystery and powerful in their own right, were stripped
of cultural and spiritual force and Mystery by male Gods, Zeus, Apollo, Hermes and others.

Here is Kassandras' tragedy. This is one of the most important themes in the book.
Kassandra was given clairvoyant sight, and claimed by Apollo as his priestess as a young child.
She went to live with the
Amazon Warrior priestess, Penthiselia (from the lineage of The Dark Goddess)-her Mother's sister.
Kassandra is initiated into the Mysteries of The Dark Goddess. Apollo becomes angry and
curses her with the gift of prophecy that no-one believes Everyone says she is mad..

I felt the characters were beautifully written. It embodies the conflict
between those that wanted continuation of The Dark Goddess Mysteries and matrilineal culture - and those
who wanted to subvert them.
Look at the difference between Hecuba and Penthesilia. Here are sisters who chose different paths. Hecuba married a powerful King and gave up her own Goddess power
Penthesilia died fighting to keep alive the Mysteries and culture of the Goddess.

The Firebrand shows the devastation of a war where no one wins and much is lost and destroyed.
If you compare the cultures of Colchis and Troy, it is another layer of the same theme.
Please remember, when you read the Illiad and The Odyssey- it is written by and
about those who "won" the wars, and their versions of the facts.

THE FIREBRAND is incredibly important for this and many reasons. We are seeing it
though the eyes of characters who are witnessing the destruction of a culture and
ancient way of life- where women were priestesses of the Goddess and had sovereignty. that was violently stripped
from their lives.This is the experience of Kassandra, the Queen of Colchis, and Pentheselia and the Amazons.
Please read this book without comparing it to other MZB's -and put yourself in the
place of these amazing characters and locations ! It is truly excellent !
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2005
I love epic tales and do have a penchant for the dramatic myself. I loved Bradley's 'Mists of Avalon' and reread it constantly. However. I found this book to be somewhat annoying. Kassandra got on my nerves. I mean, really got under my skin. The concept of liking your protagonist is traditional, but I don't expect to necessarily agree with the protagonist all the time, nor do I even expect to like her all the time. But I wanted to throttle this character. She was such a little know-it-all, with her prophecies and endless yammering about the goddess, I mean enough already, you know?

The Amazons seemed like manhaters, and Hecuba, Kassandra's mother, was also pretty annoying. Paris was a real moron. Akilles was a monster. Should I go on?

I was disappointed obviously. The ending disappointed me the most. I loathe the idea of extremes, and while Bradley was bashing one extreme she was busy lighting the way for another, with the whole feminist thing, which equally irritates me. It's like, yeah, yeah, yeah, so you're a woman and deserve respect. Maybe you'd get it if you'd stop whining about it so much and pontificating! And I am a woman, so i can say this with confidence - being a strong woman cannot simply be summed up to rejecting subservience!!!

Kassandra's character is almost fanatical in her rejection of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and yet here Kassandra is blathering on and judging all the decisions made which have to do with the heart...though she knows nothing about it! This character was very poorly constructed because she was whiny and idealistic...almost as pathetic as Gwenhwyfar in the Mists of Avalon, though at least the latter had ample reason to complain about her fate.

And don't get me started about the ending...
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2000
After reading The Mists of Avalon, I didn't think there could be another novel by Bradley to surpass its masterpiece. . . I was wrong. Firebrand was a novel that sweep me by storm. Between the two novels, Firebrand in much more fast-paced and adventure packed. Bradley's characters, as always, come to life with vibrant colors. I was struck by emotions, from tears to shear laughter throught the novel. The only fault I could find was that it had to end so soon.
Kassandra, the main character, is a bold and curious woman. Bradley, through great historical writing, takes the reader through the various cultures in the time of the Trojan War. If you like historical fiction with a twist, this novel is a must read. It not only delves into a dramatic plot and love story, but describes a day in the life of the wealth of that time.
Again Bradley captures the readers interest with her viewpoints through the most unexpected characters. I especially loved her insights on the famous Helen of Troy and Kassandra.
Overall, this novel is a masterpiece that must be place in its own catagory. I highly recommend this novel to anyone to craves a warming love story, adventurous battles, vivid characters, and great historical descriptions. 5 stars for a remarkable and smooth-flowing author.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2000
Naomi Salvarezza Reading and Writing English 100 2/22/00
Firebrand is my favorite book of all time. It is the tragic story of Troy told from the perspective of Princess Kassandra. Kassandra is a very beautiful young women going against the world. Since she was a child, she had the ability to see into the future. Troy's future was destined to be destroyed and Kassandra knew all along. The main point in this book to me is how Kassandra knew of the future and what awaited her people; everyone thought she was crazy for assumming such a terrible outcome. In the end every last prophecy she made came true and all her family died or were made into slaves. Kassandra lived her life with the pain of being ignored and yet she loved and cared for every last person who was around her. The princess had the spirit of a warrior and the heart of an angel who tried to serve her purpose for her God. Marion Zimmer Bradley's work brings joy to my life and I urge everyone to read this book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2003
Go ahead and read the reviews below. But if you were intrigued by the recent made-for-cable movie retelling the story of Troy's fall from Helen's perspective, you will love this book, told through the eyes of a richly conceived character: Kassandra, the doomed daughter of King Priam. I can only hope that the makers of the upcoming "Troy" movie take a page or two from this retelling...I personally would love to see Brad Pitt's Akhilles fall as he does in "The Firebrand"! As always, MZB manages to turn one of the most traditionally testosterone-driven tales in history into a female-centered but no less thrilling page-turner. Give it a try before you go to the theaters or TV!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 13, 2000
After reading "The Mists of Avalon" (which I adored) I was only too happy to find out that MZB was re-telling another epic legend in "The Firebrand"! The story is so captivating that you feel you're living it yourself and you don't realize you've gone through 560 pages, you'll feel sorry that it's already finished. You'll get to adore Kassandra, Helen, Hector and Andromache and hate Akhilles and even Paris... Also, for your information since I see that this title is out of print in the States, you can get it from the UK Amazon site (http://www.amazon.co.uk) This book is great and I recommend it to anyone interested in greek mythology or who has enjoyed the avalon series.
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