Reviews /

Lies We Sing to the Sea

Authored by Sarah Underwood
Published by HarperCollins Publishers

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‘Happy people do not make good stories’, he had said, each word an effort. ‘the times we care about are times of change, times of unrest. You cannot have a story without a conflict, and you cannot have a conflict without hurting someone. Stories are borne of unhappiness, loneliness, loss. Heroes never have happy endings.’ (p.422)

So says Mathias’s father in Lies We Sing to the Sea. And this story is chock-full of conflict with a lot of unhappiness, so based on Underwood’s own definition, we have all the ingredients for a very compelling story.

Young Oracle Leto is clutched from death to perform one last prophesy – end the ritual killings of the 12 maidens as sacrifices to the God Poseidon for the safety of Ithaca. Lies We Sing to the Sea reimagines the story of Penelope’s maids, killed at the return of Odysseus and the maids sacrificed subsequently as a penance. It’s pretty standard classics-reimagined fare for the YA market: steeped in mythology, monsters and maidens, good trying to triumph over evil, a search for justice and a love triangle. A simple mechanism for a successful YA novel and in this case, it works like a charm.

Despite being immersed in controversy herself, more on this below, Underwood has created a brilliantly engaging story. It’s long at 488 pages but it doesn’t feel like it. A little over-described in some places but it’s pacy and compelling. Told in the third person through the perspective of the three main protagonists, Leto, Mathias and Leto’s ‘saviour’ Melantho, Lies We Sing to the Sea is a great read and should be popular with slightly older readers of 14 years upwards. Sex is hinted at and (historical) rape is alluded to, but appropriate warnings are placed at the front of the book.

Underwood has not been the darling of the Goodreads set as she apparently recounted in a now deleted interview that she’d never read The Odyssey in full and felt that no tale had yet captured the fates of the 12 maids of Penelope. One reviewer slaughtered the book for ignoring Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad. However, what all these negative reviews on Goodreads have in common is that they claim righteously to have never read the book. And for this, they’ve missed out on a treat. Tangential to Homer’s Odyssey, the book focuses on a minor character, Melantho, for its inspiration.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Perhaps, in her excitement, Underwood made a faux pas in distancing herself from other books in this genre. But the book is fun and teens will love it.