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  • The Fairy Tale Magazine

Book Review: Lies We Sing to the Sea by Sarah Underwood

Lies We Sing to the Sea by Sarah Underwood tells the story of a young oracle named Leto. The novel opens with a reference to the scene from The Odyssey when Penelope’s twelve maids are tragically executed as collateral damage to help Odysseus reclaim Ithaca as he returns home from his journey on the sea. Now, generations later, Poseidon casts a ring of scales around the necks of twelve girls who must be sacrificed for Ithaca every spring. This year, Leto and eleven other unlucky girls are to be hanged and deposited into the ocean prevent their land from being destroyed by the god of the sea. Although nothing can save Leto from her fate, she magically survives her ordeal and finds herself transformed on a secret island where she meets a being named Melantho who teaches her to command the power of water and explains that the curse of Ithaca can only be stopped by the death of its prince.

Although this book is marketed in the tradition of Madeline Miller’s Circe, it is quite different from retellings of mythology which alter readers’ perceptions by giving voice to characters often unexplored by ancient poets. Underwood is not attempting to retell a mythic tale, but she is asking her readers to consider a key unexplored act of gendered violence from The Odyssey and to contemplate the outcome of that violence generations later. Beneath the coming of age plot and the sapphic romance aimed at her young adult audience, Underwood explores themes about loss and grief and offers a commentary on how sins against women can reverberate through the ages. Audiences will be drawn in by the characters who are all trying to navigate circumstances thrust upon them by the barbaric actions of Odysseus and the men from The Odyssey.

Underwood does manage to spin an engaging story that casts light on the silenced women of The Odyssey, but her book falls short of transforming the content of her source material. Her characters (Leto, Selene, Hekate) are not the characters readers may know from their own study of Greek mythology, they are simply girls who share names with famous women and goddesses. Her plot also lacks convincing details about the daily life and customs in Ancient Greece. Nevertheless, Underwood provides an interesting story with a heart-breaking quality that will force readers to think about intergenerational trauma and its lasting effects. Lies We Sing to the Sea is a gripping tale for those who love mythology and Young Adult fantasy fiction.

You can find the book here.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Kelly Jarvis is the Special Projects Writer and Contributing Editor for The Fairy Tale Magazine. Her work has appeared in Eternal Haunted Summer, Blue Heron Review, Forget-Me-Not Press, Mermaids Monthly, The Chamber Magazine, and Mothers of Enchantment: New Tales of Fairy Godmothers. She teaches at Central Connecticut State University.

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