The Shadow of Perseus: A Novel

The Shadow of Perseus: A Novel

by Claire Heywood
The Shadow of Perseus: A Novel

The Shadow of Perseus: A Novel

by Claire Heywood


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For fans of The Witch's Heart, Stone Blind, and A Thousand Ships will love this feminist retelling of the myth of Perseus centering three sidelined voices: Danae, Andromeda, and Medusa. These three different perspectives paint a different view of the supposed hero, shedding new light on this story.

Nationally bestselling author of Daughters of Sparta Claire Heywood returns with an imaginative and female-centered reinterpretation of the myth of the great hero Perseus, told through the voices of three women who are sidelined in the traditional version—his mother, Danae; his trophy, Medusa; and his wife, Andromeda—but whose viewpoints reveal a man who is not, in fact, a hero at all.

Danae: Banished from her homeland thanks to a prophecy foretelling that her unborn child will one day cause the death of her father, the king of Argos, Danae finds herself stranded, pregnant, and alone in a remote fishing village. It’s a harsh new world for a young woman who grew up as a coddled princess, and forging a new life for herself and for her young son Perseus will be the hardest thing she’s ever done.

Medusa: As a member of a reclusive band of women who live deep in the woods, known as the Gorgons, Medusa has eschewed all contact with the outside world. That is, until the day she finds an injured boy named Perseus in the forest.

Andromeda: When a harsh sandstorm threatens to destroy her nomadic desert tribe’s way of life, Andromeda knows that a sacrifice will be required to appease the gods and end the storm. But when a forceful young Perseus interferes, Andromeda’s life is set on an entirely new path.
As Perseus becomes increasingly obsessed with the promise of his own destiny, his heroic journey casts a shadow of violence and destruction across all three women’s lives. But even as he tries to silence them, the women may find that reclaiming their voices is their only hope for lifting themselves into a better future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593471555
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/21/2023
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Claire Heywood is a scholar of the ancient world, with a bachelor's degree in Classical Civilization and a master's degree in Ancient Visual and Material Culture from the University of Warwick.  Her first novel, Daughters of Sparta, was a national bestseller.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Danae had a spring in her step as she made the steep ascent to the temple. She smiled as the wind pulled at her skirts, leading her on up the well-worn path that snaked its way along the rocky hillside. She could hear her handmaid Korinna panting behind her, and felt the sweat beginning to gather on her brow, but she pushed on. They were almost at the top.

"Not far now," Danae declared, turning to her handmaid, but her grin dropped a little as she saw Korinna struggling with the heavy wine jar. "Let me take that," she offered, feeling suddenly guilty about the unrelenting pace she had set.

"Don't worry, mistress. We're almost there now, as you say."

Nevertheless Danae dropped back and they carried the jar between them the rest of the way, each taking one of the clay handles. It might have been difficult, negotiating that weight between two sets of slender arms, but Korinna had been with her long enough that they knew how to move together. Just as when her handmaid dressed her in the morning, or fixed her hair in elaborate coils, or when the two of them set the loom with its colorful woolen threads, their bodies flowed around one another, each hand knowing where it was needed.

As the slope finally leveled out and the temple came into view, the two girls stopped to catch their breath. Though she had seen them many times before, those stone walls never failed to impress Danae. Each boulder was perfectly set, curving between its neighbors to create a great circle rising out from the plateau. It was no larger than her own home-smaller, probably-and yet there was an immovable solidity to those rocks that made the building loom beyond its stature. This was a place for gods, not men.

That feeling was undercut somewhat by the very mortal-looking attendant who appeared through the doorway. She and Korinna set the wine jar down on the gravel as the man stepped toward them, the morning light illuminating his pockmarked cheeks and balding head.

"Ah, Lady Danae," he called, clasping his hands together as he strode toward them. "You are welcome once again to the temple of the divine twins, Paion Apollo and Lady Artemis." He glanced down at the jar. "Another offering for the Lord Apollo?"

"Yes," she gasped, still breathless from the climb. "My father asks that Lord Apollo return a favorable answer in the question of his marriage. He asks that the shining god should reveal which bride shall provide him with a son, so that he may bring further glory to the illustrious city of Argos and pleasing gifts to the god who has been his patron in this matter." She reeled off the words she had spoken each morning for the last two weeks, then took a lungful of air.

"Very well," said the attendant with a gracious nod. "We shall see that the libation is poured. May the shining god smile upon the king's request." And with that he stooped to lift the cumbersome wine jar and carried it as ceremoniously as he could back through the doorway of the temple. Danae's gaze followed him under the stone lintel, trying to see into the center of that mysterious building. She saw the flicker of fire, shadowy figures crossing its light, and then the door was closed.

She smiled. Let the priests keep their secrets. She had not hurried all the way up Larissa Hill to peer at altars and trade formalities with dusty old attendants. She hitched her skirts and strode straight past the temple, leaving Korinna behind as her eager feet almost sprang into a run, charging across the plateau, stones crunching under her sandals until . . . There it was.

Danae stopped herself, raised an arm against the sharp morning sun, and looked out on the object of her daily pilgrimage. There in the distance lay the great glistening blue, stretching out to meet the sky. In all her eighteen years Danae had never left Argos. She could only imagine the worlds that existed beyond the sea, the vibrant people who inhabited them, the great adventures that might be happening right now on some distant shore. Her uncle told her such stories, when the hearth fire burned low and she and her cousins were huddled around him, drinking his words like honey wine. Stories of monsters and shipwrecks, of foreign kingdoms and great hero's. But even he rarely traveled. "I have all I need right here," he would say, gathering Danae and his daughters into his thick chest.

She loved those evenings, and the worlds he conjured with his deep, full voice. But sometimes she wished she could do more than listen. The view from Larissa Hill was the closest she came to stepping on those distant shores, to feeling their sand beneath her feet. It was worth the daily climb to stand here and take in the bay, to feel herself so close to the unbounded blue that connected her to a whole world beyond, to be buffeted by a wind that had shaken foreign trees and whipped unknown tides. She let the feeling of it soak through her.

"Should we not return now, mistress?" came Korinna's soft voice beside her.

Danae's heart sank. She could say no, and insist that they stay another few minutes, another hour, but it would only make her father anxious. She didn't want to risk putting him into an ill temper. He had been on edge these last weeks, awaiting the response from the oracle, and she knew that if she pushed him too far she might lose the freedoms she savored. Taking one last lungful of the hilltop air, she tore her eyes away from the azure sea and began the reluctant descent with Korinna at her side.

They made their way through the city, attracting gazes and nods from the fishermen come to sell their morning catch, potters shaping their clay or bringing cups from the kiln, dyers filling the street with mismatched aromas as they stirred their great vats-earthy, sweet, then suddenly nose-pinchingly sharp. Between the workshops and wagons, the stalls and stables, people gossiped and haggled, each trying to be heard above the others. As Danae tried to linger beside some of them, curious to hear something beyond the usual palace talk, Korinna drew her veil over her head and quickened her pace. But Danae knew they had no reason to fear. No one in Argos would dare harm the daughter of Akrisios, nor one of his slaves. So she smiled politely at those they passed, and followed the path that was cleared for them.

As they turned on to the main street, another path was being cleared farther ahead. A wedding procession, from the torches held aloft and the bridal hymn that filled the air. She could see the timid bride, clutching her veil to hide her blushing face, stepping carefully over the cobbles to avoid spoiling her fine saffron dress. Danae felt for her in her nervousness, and yet beneath that there was a twinge of envy.

Argos had no shortage of men hoping to marry Akrisios's only daughter. But as each one presented himself, her father found a reason to reject them. They were too fat, too thin, too poor, too wealthy, too foolish, too clever. Danae knew the real reason for his reluctance to let her marry. He already had one rival in her uncle Proitos, and could not abide another.

Then a month ago, after years of trampled hope, Danae thought her time had come. A young man, barely older than she was, had come to stay in the palace with his father, a wealthy merchant from Krete. Such a thing was hardly unusual-a little wine and hospitality here and there was necessary for bringing new ships into Nauplia, and new luxuries into her father's hands. But this guest was different. Danae had been brought to dine with the man, and with his son. And as soon as she entered the Hearth Hall she had felt the weight of their collective gaze-heavier by far than that of polite curiosity.

The boy had been quite unremarkable, with dark eyes and doughy cheeks. But even to be in the company of a boy her own age sent a warm tingle down her neck, and she felt her cheeks burn hot even though the fire was low. As she watched him over her cup, and as he watched her, and as their fathers spoke of wedding gifts and dowries, she found herself imagining the life they might share. There was a shyness in his glance that she found endearing, a curve in his lip that came and went as she caught him looking. Not a word had passed between them and yet she told herself that he was kind and decent. She had to believe it, if this was finally to be her chance to wed.

It had been going so well. The boy's father was wealthy but foreign. He had no stake to claim on the mainland, no power or loyalties to rival her father's. And the boy could hardly be a threat, young and unassuming as he was. He was the perfect candidate, she thought. And her father seemed to believe it too, nodding his black head as the merchant spoke of gold and silver, saffron and ivory. His heavy brows, always so closely knit, began to lift with each sip of wine, each deal arranged.

And then came the word she had heard her father speak so many times before.


His beard began to quiver and he leaned back on his chair, face wrinkled with disdain. The merchant looked perplexed, glancing from Akrisios to his own silent son, and though his honeyed voice continued to flow, Danae's father had already set himself like a stone, arms crossed over his chest.

She hadn't caught what had passed between them. Some talk of inheritance, she thought, trying to recall the last moments in her ear's memory. But it was hardly worth the effort. She knew from her father's face that it was done. The boy would leave, like all the others before him, and she would have to close up her hope once again.

That had been the hardest one yet, Danae thought. It was cruel of her father to let her meet the boy. Not many had gotten that far. More often by the time Danae learned there had been a suitor at the Golden House they had already been sent away, and she would have to learn the details from gossip that spread through the palace like flies over ripe fruit.

Not two weeks after the boy had left, her father sent his men on a journey to far Delphi, to ask Apollo which girl he should marry to be sure of begetting a son. Perhaps it was a coincidence, though in the most sunken part of her heart Danae knew it was not. Her father had turned his eye to new prospects. Why pursue a marriage for her, when his own might yield so much reward, and bring so little risk? Yes, soon he would have an heir-a true, male heir-to put him ahead of his brother and secure the future of Argos for his own line. And what thought should he give to her future then? Even as she enjoyed her trips to the temple, bringing the pleasing wine for Apollo, she knew that she might be coaxing the very decision that would make her own life inconsequential.

Danae's throat was tight as she and Korinna watched the procession go by, but still she added her voice to the wedding hymn as it swelled and faded. Making a silent prayer for the bride's happiness, she watched as the veiled head disappeared among the crowd. Another girl gone to start her life, she thought, swallowing the bitterness on her tongue.

Chapter 2

The sun had reached its highest point by the time they returned to the Golden House. So called for the bright ocher of its walls, it had been built by her grandfather as a home befitting the King of Argos. Now two kings shared its cramped halls.

The great doors hung wide open, so perhaps her father and uncle had been giving audiences this morning. The thought slowed Danae's steps. It always left her father in a prickly mood, when he had been forced to lend space to his brother's words beside his own. Her grandfather had thought himself blessed to have twin sons and made both his heirs, to rule Argos with double strength. But he had not lived long enough to see the reality of it. She was glad, at least, that she had not been forced to spend her morning in the close hall, watching as the two kings clashed their judgments like shields, each pushing against the other until one was forced to relent. It was childish, really. Like boys matching the strength of their arms, biceps shaking as they tried to keep their faces smooth. And she could not blame her father alone. They were each as stubborn as the other.

A sour mood was all the more reason not to keep her father waiting, so Danae carried on past the guards with Korinna at her heels, through the atrium, across the small courtyard, and pushed against the heavy door of the Hearth Hall.

Just as she had predicted, there he was. Her father half arose from his throne as she entered, but sank back as he saw who stood in the doorway.

"It's you," he sighed, without bothering to hide his disappointment. She smiled sweetly as if she hadn't noticed. Disappointing her father was nothing new to Danae.

"I thought you would like to know that your offering has been accepted by the temple. May the shining god bring you the answer that you desire." She nodded dutifully, still standing in the doorway.

"We may as well have poured it down the well," her father grunted, sinking further into his throne. "Surely Apollo has moved the Pythia's lips to speak by now? Why have my men not returned?" he asked the hall at large, taking an impatient swig from his cup.

"Mind your words, brother," came the steady voice of her uncle, seated on his own throne on the opposite side of the hall. "We do not want the gods to think that we begrudge them their offerings." He gave Danae a warm smile before continuing. "Delphi is five days' travel at least. They will return in good time."

It seemed her father didn't have any more to say, so instead he glowered at his brother over the rim of his cup, the hearth fire crackling between them. It was Proitos who broke the silence.

"Sit with us, Danae," her uncle said, waving to an empty stool beside his three daughters. "Your feet must ache after your journey to the temple."

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