historical fiction

Review: The Shadow of Perseus by Claire Heywood

The Shadow of Perseus follows the women of myth: Danae, Perseus’s mother, Medusa the Gorgon, and Andromeda, wife of Perseus. Claire Heywood reframes this myth into a historical, realistic context in which a simple baker is the father of Perseus, not Zeus, Medusa is a real woman of a female-led tribe, and Andromeda was not a princess who needed to be saved.

The Perseus in this tale is not heroic, but chilling. This Perseus asks the reader to contemplate the disturbing fact that a man with a fragile ego is a very dangerous thing. Danae, while pregnant with him, is effectively banished from her home at Argos (of which her father rules) and takes refuge in a simple fishing village on the island of Seriphos. It is here that Danae tries to raise her son with compassion, kindness, and empathy. Try as she might, the fact that he does not have a father and his friends do, the fact that he had a kingdom taken from him, carves a deep chip off his shoulder.

Perseus takes a position aboard a trade vessel to see the world of the Mediterranean, his inner self at odds between the kind of man his mother raised him to be and the violent, take what he wants kind of man the ship’s crew expects within that typical atmosphere of toxic masculinity. The result of denying a man something, whether that be an object or a person or an idea, when he has already had things taken from him or denied him, is violence.

The trail of carnage Perseus leaves in his wake his chilling and disturbing, which is only amplified by the fact that he doesn’t perceive his actions as harmful or wrong. Medusa, a woman of a tribe of outcast women, is at first drawn to his child-like innocence and is lured by a sort of false sense of security only to uncover the horrifying side of him when he is denied his desire. I would have liked to see more of Medusa, as her section in the middle of the book is quite short, but her story line fulfills the baseline narrative function in driving Perseus’s actions and inevitably connects his mother and “wife” later on.

The interpretation of Andromeda was quite interesting in that she had, by choice, offered herself as sacrifice to the sea to stop storms from ravaging her village. Perseus finds her and “rescues” her against her will, her life from there on out following one of a kidnapped woman.

There is no happy ending for the women in the historical interpretation of this myth, no real monsters but the men who feel they have something to prove. This is a world where women must band together to survive.

The Shadow of Perseus will be released on February 21, 2023