From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2008:
"Halam fashions a retelling both lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny by combining modern elements with bits of ancient Mediterranean history."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, July 2008:
"[L]overs of Greek myth will find plenty of details and hints to keep them involved."
Rewriting the myth of Perseus and Andromeda is a formidable task, but Halam (Dr. Franklin's Island) performs it with seeming ease and tongue-in-cheek humor. Demigod Perseus becomes smitten when Andromeda, a beautiful princess trying to escape her fate of being a human sacrifice, runs away to his island. But before romance can get off the ground, the evil king of Serifos dispatches Perseus to fetch the head of Medusa, the snake-haired monster who can turn men to stone. With some help from supernatural beings, Perseus hopes to accomplish more: save his people from tyranny and rescue Andromeda. Mythology buffs will appreciate the plethora of classical figures, while periodic references to contemporary culture (e.g., a band of rich, rowdy teens are dubbed "the Yacht Club kids") and occasional slang drive the story home for the target audience without sacrificing its heroic dimensions. Ages 12-up. (June)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Look to the stars (or a star map) and find there the characters in this marvelous retelling of the ancient story: Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, and Pegasus. Halam has been faithful to the myth, adding depth, wisdom, and humor to create a novel that will challenge YA readers and adults alike. At the heart of this story is the greater question, the mystery, of how gods and humans interact. Yes, the Greek myth may have the gods Poseidon, Zeus (Perseus's father), Hermes, and Athena, but Halam is interested in themes that encompass all divinity, even the understanding of God in modern times. How does God use us for His purposes? is a question still pondered. What is fate? is not an unknown modern puzzle. Even the veil that separates the mystery of the divine from the human (as Andromeda expresses it) is another metaphor like "through a glass darkly." As for the story itself: Perseus and Andromeda meet on a small island in the Cyclades and fall in love, but their fates appear to be dictated by the gods, and they believe there is no escape. Andromeda is a princess from Phoenicia, a brilliant young woman who knows about an alphabet linking the sounds of words (not a picture) to their meaning, which is a major breakthrough in the human history of reading and writing. Her name in Greek translates to "Great Thinker, Ruler of Men." Perseus is sent to kill the Medusa, and he succeeds in slicing off her head without looking into her faceif anyone does look into her face, that person turns to stone. Andromeda has consented to be the virgin sacrifice to the god Poseidon, to spare her city Haifa from earthquakes, and she allows herself to be chained to a rock to be claimed by the sea. The godsthemselves appear in this story, perhaps as visions, perhaps taking human form. And the emotions, the action, the dialog are realistic and gripping, sure to appeal to all readers who love drama, especially those with some appreciation of Greek myths, Homer, and Greek tragedy. In Halam's careful hands, this ancient myth is told to modern YA readers with all the guts of adolescent struggle intactPerseus and Andromeda are adolescents, after all. Snakehead is quite an amazing achievement, and it can be read at different levels of understanding and appreciation. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
Children's Literature - Jennie DeGenaro
If you enjoy Greek mythology and ancient myths, Ann Halam has written a book for you. A young couple meet and fall in love. Their parents include gods and mortals. The kingdoms they are from are unusual in physical design and customs. Mysterious happenings are expertly drawn from the author's imagination, research, and from Greek mythology. Perseus and his love Andromeda have problems that appear impossible to overcome. Some gods help them achieve success in their seemingly impossible goals. When Perseus is ordered by his father, the great Zeus, to kill Medusa, it appears unachievable. The king also orders Perseus to kill Medusa, the same monster. Previously, Medusa had been the most beautiful woman in the world. Many soldiers had tried to kill her, failed, and suffered death for their efforts. Andromeda is left to die, chained to a rock in the sea. She will be a human sacrifice to the gods. She is not pleased when Perseus saves her as she is prepared to die for her people. The journeys the couple take include scary, mysterious, and dangerous encounters. After many harrowing experiences, the couple return to their homes, victorious. They marry and will live happily ever after throughout eternity. Halam, the author, writes adult science fiction and fantasy novels under the pen name Gwyneth Jones. Readers wanting something different will choose to read these books which are far from run-of-the-mill. Reviewer: Jennie DeGenaro
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up- In Snakehead , the world of the ancient Aegean comes alive, and Perseus, the only Greek hero to have a happy ending, gets a compelling treatment. He has long lived in the household of "Papa Dicty," the rightful king of the island Serifos. His mother, Danae, was a princess of Argos, and his father is Zeus. Perseus is less interested in this heritage than he is in keeping Papa Dicty's taverna running. When an earthquake sends refugees to Serifos, including the beautiful Kore (which means "girl"), Perseus realizes that things are coming to a head. As Kore, who is actually Andromeda, begins to reveal her secrets, the silent war between Dicty and his brother-usurper Polydectes heightens, and Perseus is sent on a mission to slay the monster Medusa, a once-beautiful woman who caused a feud between Athini and Poseidon, the god to whom Andromeda has been pledged as a sacrifice. Though there are some anachronisms in the story, for the most part the attitudes and understanding of the world experienced by the main characters are true to their setting: Perseus struggles with his identity as half-immortal, and Andromeda with her fate as a sacrifice. Readers of Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson" series (Hyperion) will be delighted to read a tale of that Percy's namesake, and lovers of Greek myth will find plenty of details and hints to keep them involved. The mentions of early Minoan civilization and the islands of Nexos and Fira, now called Santorini, all give the setting a realistic feeling.-Alana Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
The classic myth of Perseus and Andromeda gets a stylish makeover. As in the original, headstrong Perseus, son of Zeus, saves the princess Andromeda from being sacrificed and his mortal mother Danae from forced marriage to evil King Polydectes by slaying Medusa and using her head to turn his enemies to stone. But here Halam fashions a retelling both lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny by combining modern elements with bits of ancient Mediterranean history. The author references an actual earthquake that devastated the Minoan civilization, while giving a wink to her audience by having Perseus find the garbage of the ages (including discarded soda cans) washed up on the shores of the Styx. Meddling gods make their star turns, as does Jason of Argonaut fame, portrayed here as a salty-tongued surfer dude. Andromeda, no shrinking violet, manages to invent written language before happily marrying a thoroughly impressed Perseus. Though too leisurely paced for the Rick Riordan crew, this novel should be a fanciful feast for fans of Adele Geras's Troy (2002) or Catherine Fisher's Oracle Prophesies. (author's note, map) (Fantasy. YA)
Read an Excerpt
My mother and I emerged from the tumult of rich smells, from the dark, narrow alleys of Naxos market into bright sunlight. We saw the crowd of refugees and recoiled in horror. Just for a moment both of us were convinced that half the population of Serifos had arrived, destitute, while we were trading (and spying a little, on the side). We’d only been away four days, but war had broken out. These were the survivors, which meant that everyone we loved was dead or enslaved. It was all over.
A second look reassured us. The people clogging up the busy waterfront had come a long way; they didn’t even look like islanders. We grinned at each other ruefully, sharing the shock and the guilty relief. Oh good, not us this time. Some other poor victims of hateful injustice, divine displeasure or a pirate raid.
Moumi and I had been making this trip together, twice a shipping season, since I was a little boy. I had loved the whole thing, in those days. The market stalls where I got spoiled rotten. The quiet times when I would sit under a tree or by a fountain and think while Moumi talked to merchants, and other, shifty-looking people. Everything was different now that I was almost a man. I understood what was going on at home, and that knowledge had opened my eyes to the state my whole world was in.
“The trouble is,” said Moumi, “too many refugees have been dumped on the Naxians, and it’s mostly the worst off. The ones who have nothing: no relatives who will take them in, no trades. Oh, I hope the town doesn’t turn the soldiers on them.”
Naxos isn’t the richest of the islands we call the “Turning Islands,” which is “Kyklades” in Greek. It isn’t the one with the most sea-route connections either; that’s Paros. But it’s the biggest. Penniless refugees tended to end up here as a last resort, on the grounds there was always room for a few more.
We were blocking the alley. We led the mules along the colonnade and stopped by a drinking fountain to regroup. We had laden animals. One of them—dear Brainy—was liable to panic in a noisy crowd. We shifted Music to the back and Brainy to the middle place (which he usually didn’t like), beside a group of men who were muttering about Trojans and Achaeans.
Troy ruled the far-distant east end of the Middle Sea. The Achaeans had taken over on the Greek Mainland, which lay to the north of us, a little too close for comfort. These two Great Powers (or bully gangs, depending on your point of view) were in a continual state of undeclared war, always picking on each other’s so-called allies. The men thought one or the other of them was responsible for the new influx, but they couldn’t decide which. I asked a Naxian matriarch, who was standing there frowning darkly at the scene, accompanied by servant boys and a heavy handcart full of oil jars.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Do you know who they are?”
The lady looked us over, noting our coloring: Moumi’s hair, coming out from under her scarf in ringlets of pure gold. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously between the lines of Egyptian-style kohl. “You’re Achaeans, aren’t you?”
“Not anymore,” said my mother, without taking offense. “We were invited to leave, by the king of our former country, shortly after my son was born. We were castaways ourselves once; that’s why we feel sympathy for the refugees’ plight.”
My mother looks like a teenager. Strangers often take her for my sister. But when she feels like it, she can take on the hauteur of an Argolide princess, because that’s what she used to be. Also, we had three fine-looking mules in tow, which made us respectable even if we weren’t Naxians.
The lady changed her tone. “They’re not from the Turning Islands, madam. No one can understand the language they speak. The sailors say they’re from the south, Libya or somewhere like that. Apparently, there’s been a quake and tidal wave; it wiped out a whole coast.”
A shiver went through me. A big quake is a fearful portent—but it wasn’t fear I felt, not exactly fear. “Was there a Supernatural involved?” I blurted. “Who was it?”
The woman took a second look, her eyes widened and I suspected she’d recognized us. Our story was old news, but it had been spread all over the place by tale-tellers, and people tend to remember gossip about the god-touched. We still got that spooked reaction occasionally. I didn’t like it, but sometimes—I have to admit—it was my own fault. At moments of stress I tend to forget that normal people don’t talk about the Achaean Divinities as if they’re disreputable family connections.
“It’s none of my business,” the Naxian lady muttered, fearful and wary. “Excuse me, my lady, er, young sir. I must get to the dock.” She hustled her boys and her cart away.
“Don’t do that, Perseus,” said my mother (whose name was Danae, of the shower of gold: the famous imprisoned princess who had once been visited by the chief of the Achaean Gods, my father).
“Sorry. I didn’t think.”
I saw that the nymph of the fountain, barely visible in the sunlight, was watching me. I wondered what that fragile creature made of our tragedies and disasters, and all the human bustle that had grown up around her timeless little world.
Meanwhile, my mortal mother, who could not see the spirit of the water as I could, had forged off on her own with the mules, into the churning crowd. I hurried to catch up.