Detail of the south porch of the Erechtheion with the Caryatids of Ancient Greece.
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Book Review: “Epic of Helinthia” by MJ Pankey


Recently, whilst perusing NetGalley, I stumbled upon MJ Pankey’s debut novel Epic of Helinthia, and its cover immediately struck me. Reminiscent of the artwork emblazoned on ancient Greek amphorae and pottery, the novel’s helmet, falcon emblem, olive branches, and other stylistic decor draw the reader in before one turns the page. Need I say it drew me in?

Book cover of Epic of Helinthia. The cover is a dark blue adorned with a Greek helmet, a diving falcon, a Greek temple, and assorted foliage.
Isn’t this gorgeous?

Epic of Helinthia represents a masterful debut that incorporates elements of Homeric epics, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth trope (also known as the hero’s journey), and Pankey’s own unique narrative gifts to present readers with a powerful story that brings the best of ancient Greek mythology reverberating well into the present.


The novel paints a grim picture in its prologue. On a fictional island set in Ancient Greece, a queen lays dead and a city burns. Smoke writhes and twists into the air, choking and consuming. An heir, and all hope, utterly lost. A tyrant rises, and a people suffers and mourns. Do their gods and goddesses forsake them? Is there a way to gain back their favor?

These are the questions Dargos, the leader, or basileus, of the polis of Shallinath seeks to answer as he lays the foundations for a rebellion against the usurper Charixes. His closest allies – his sister Gonivein; the sturdy and loyal Pallas; the brash but talented Tendior; the lively and mysterious Forluna; vain and entitled Kelric, Gonivein’s betrothed; and Kelric’s shy and unassuming brother Gadnor – rally around him. 

Leaving Gonivein to assume control of Shallinath, the five men embark on their journey to acquire allies. Perils, however, dog their footsteps like the hellhounds of Hades. Charixes’ spies haunt their shadows, weaving their own webs of terror, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Their aim? To stamp out the rebellion and those behind it.

But does the Greek pantheon desire Helinthia’s restoration? Some, perhaps, but not all. And, in true Olympian fashion, the root of Helinthia’s issues lies with pantheonic machinations. Helinthia’s future lies in tatters…or does it? Did Helinthia’s royal heir survive its harrowing ordeal? Or was it left in ashes, just like its mother?


Pankey’s Epic of Helinthia left an indelible mark on me as a reader. She effortlessly and intricately weaves threads through each chapter, dangling threads to tantalize the reader into continuing. Each unique perspective (Dargos, Gonivein, Forluna, Kelric, and Gadnor) slowly untangles, tightens, and forwards the story until its astonishing conclusion.

Pankey’s story fits seamlessly into the corpus of Greek mythology with conniving gods and goddesses, hubris a-plenty, and heroes whose courageous appearances belie secrets galore. But Greek stories also include some darker tendencies, especially in the treatment of women and their lack of agency.

For instance, Gonivein and Forluna suffer through terrible circumstances where they’re left helpless and at the whim of their attackers. But I don’t read this as a fault in Pankey’s writing but rather an adherence to mythic tropes (see, for example, Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne, Zeus’ endless extramarital pursuits, or the story of the Sabine women). I suspect Pankey will up-end these tropes in future sequels to complete these incredible women’s transformation into utter forces of nature.

Beyond that, the deft composition of intricate plot, engaging characters, and brisk pace lures readers in like the strings of Apollo’s lyre and refuses to let them go. Fans of another book I loved, Yvonne Korshak’s Pericles and Aspasia, or of Madeline Miller should appreciate this novel!

Thank you to the author and the publisher for a digital copy of this novel via NetGalley!

Book Summary

Book cover of Epic of Helinthia. The cover is a dark blue adorned with a Greek helmet, a diving falcon, a Greek temple, and assorted foliage.

Title: Epic of Helinthia
Author: MJ Pankey
Publisher: Muse & Quill Press
Publication Year: 2023
Page Count: 386pp

Featured image: Detail of the south porch of the Erechtheion with the Caryatids of Ancient Greece (Getty Images/sorincolac)

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