Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago.
But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.
One of School Library Journal's Best Books of 2010: "With vivid characters and nonstop action, this is a perfect introduction to the classic tale."
Accompanied by Brax, a centaur, and runaway weaver Polydora,
[Telemachos] discovers that the world is full of dangers, some of them
giving the appearance of friendship. He also begins to discover what a
good kingship requires by viewing the hurting realms of Pylos and
Sparta. Readers familiar with The Odyssey will know some of how
the story ends, but Barrett’s depictions of familiar characters and
situations are surprising and fresh, allowing a new tale to be told
inside the old one. The author also makes much of no one expecting poets
to tell the truth, just a good story, and Telemachos’s own narrative
ends with the traditional concluding words of a poet that seem to be a
tongue-in-cheek commentary on storytelling. This is a strong retelling with definite YA appeal, particularly in Telemachos's final triumph, where he takes the chariot reins of his life in his own hands.
— School Library Journal★Starred review
[A] rip-roaring adventure as told by Telemachos. His father Odysseus
departed for the Trojan War when Telemachos, now 16, was an infant; his
mother Penelopeia has kept the peace in Ithaka during Odysseus' absence,
but now the people demand a king as they ridicule spoiled Telemachos. .
Telemachos struggles with issues of adolescence and coming of age,
digging deep for the courage to face the challenges of his journey. Teens will devour the gritty action, savoring the epic characters and mythic creatures.
— School Library Journal Curriculum Connections
In this hero's quest drawn from Homer’s Odyssey, Telemachos, only
child of Odysseus, King of Ithaka, has waited 16 years for his
wandering father to return from the Trojan wars while his dutiful
mother, Penelopeia, fends off would-be suitors. When a stranger
challenges him to find his father, Telemachos consults an oracle, who
prophesies Ithaka will have a king only after he searches for Odysseus
and returns "to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing
the thing that is not." Adventure follows Telemachos as he sails to
Pylos and travels cross country to Sparta with his centaur pal, Brax,
and their (human) female chum, Polydora. He chronicles this perilous
journey in the first person, allowing readers to witness his
metamorphosis from an immature, self-centered youth to an appealing
leader who eclipses his famous father in strength, bravery, generosity
and compassion, fulfilling the cryptic prophecy. A rousing
introduction to epic characters and mythic creatures of ancient Greece
from the fresh perspective of an engaging young hero.
Readers are sure to enjoy a fast-paced story and action-packed journey
in this tale of Telemachos, only son of Odysseus…What a great complement
for readers of The Odyssey!
— Library Media Connection
Barrett has pulled off an incredible feat of imagination and scholarship.
She cuts right to the bone of the ancient story, replacing hackneyed
notions of honor and nobility with a tale that's monstrously inventive. King of Ithaka works brilliantly as an introduction to Homer for young readers who haven't read the Odyssey—and even more brilliantly, as a deconstruction, for older readers who have.
— Chapter 16, Nashville City Paper
Barrett does a fine job of making a standalone story that does not stray
too far from the classic, and although her characters are less iconic,
they are nonetheless heroic, relatable and sympathetic, without being
anything like perfect people. Along with interesting details of ancient
life, Barrett sneaks in contemporary lessons about prejudice, courage,
Readers without prior knowledge of the Homeric epics can fully enjoy
this as a rousing adventure, but those who are already acquainted with
Odysseus' tale will appreciate Barrett's audacious take on the arrogant
hero and his milquetoast son.
— Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Building on the events of Homer's Odyssey from the point of view
of Telemachos, the 16-year-old son of the absent king Odysseus, Barrett .
. . crafts a coming-of-age novel full of mythical creatures and
questions about what it truly means to be a leader. . . With its focus
on Telemachos's determination and growth, Barrett's tale should be an
enjoyable and accessible primer for readers who've not yet read the
— Publishers Weekly
[T]he exotic climes and vivid descriptions . . . give the story a sense
of immediacy and color. Telemachos' first-person narration allows
readers to experience the complexity of his character as the prince
matures and evolves into a leader that would make any parent proud.
Barrett knows her Greek history, and fills the narrative with delightful
references and details that make the characters and setting compelling.
An excellent choice for mature young adult readers.
— Children's Literature
In one scene, after a bard tells a story, a character comments, "Nobody
expects a poet to tell the truth." It's a clue that things will happen a
little differently here than in Homer's Odyssey. After guests in
Telemachos' kingdom begin insisting that his mother give up waiting for
Odysseus and marry one of them, Telemachos decides to search for the
facts about his father. From the beginning, his quest is filled with
danger. He consults an oracle better known for killing—and possibly
eating—the people who consult her than she is for the usefulness of her
advice. Her prophecy, typical of Greek oracles, is bafflingly difficult
to interpret - until it proves true.
Telemachos faces one peril after another in his quest, many
genuinely terrifying. Although a subplot involving racial prejudice may
strike readers as an overused angle on a common theme, except for the
target of the prejudice being a centaur, it doesn't overwhelm the story.
The ending of King of Ithaka gives Telemachos a strong, satisfying
place in a tale where, up to now, he was little more than a bystander.
— Historical Novels
[A] seagoing road trip rife with adventure, as Telemachos journeys to
Pylos and Sparta with his centaur friend Brax and love interest
Polydora. Telemachos tells his story in graceful, weighty prose that captures its vividness and epic grandeur.
— Nashville Scene
It's a bold act to retell a classic, but Barrett carries it off well,
putting a new spin on many of the famous episodes from Homer's epic. King of Ithaka will surely join her earlier efforts, including Cold in Summer, Anna of Byzantium, and the Sherlock Files series, on reading lists everywhere.
— Nashville Scene
The Song of Orpheus: The Greatest Greek Myths You Never Heard