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Snakehead Mass Market Paperback – September 8, 2009
From School Library Journal
Starred Review. Grade 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
To get young Perseus out of the way so that he might sate a long-held lust for the lad’s mother, Polydectes, the corrupt island ruler of Serifos, commits Perseus to an impossible task: bringing him the head of the Gorgon, Medusa. Halam expands on and enhances the well-known Greek myth, relating Perseus’s story in his own voice and surrounding him with a likable cast of characters and a lovingly described place. Perseus is a kind, upright young man who has grown up on Serifos and who is intrigued by the mysterious new girl in town, Andromeda. Thoughts of romance are upset, however, as Perseus is pulled toward that fateful moment when he receives Polydectes’ charge. Along the way, Andromeda’s secrets are revealed and various entertainingly reimagined characters make appearances, including Zeus, Hermes, Athini (Athena) and Jason. Halam’s version is sophisticated but teen-friendly and will certainly interest fans of myth. Wider appeal may be limited by a stronger focus on the story’s building blocks and less on critical action and climax. Grades 9-12. --Holly Koelling --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
In Snakehead, Halam retells the Perseus myth, but not in the manner of Clash of the Titans or The Lightning Thief: she keeps action to a minimum, choosing instead to explore the culture of ancient Greece and the relationships between characters (particularly Perseus and Andromeda, who in this retelling is a refugee seeking to escape her sentence). It’s a tribute to this book’s brilliance that the archaic society seems at once astonishingly modern and utterly alien--or to put this another way, Halam succeeds in showing that what appears bizarre and otherworldly to the people of one time and place (human sacrifice, conversations with immortals, divine curses) may have appeared routine and commonplace to others. One of Halam’s more inspired contrivances is to have Andromeda, the child of Africa, bring phonetic script to the Greek isles, where this new form of artistry is described in language befitting its mystery and majesty:
"She saw a Greek city, rich in marble buildings, with vivid-columned temples. Rivers of light were springing from it and flying across the lands, weaving a fabric richer than her eyes could follow, vanishing north, east, west, south, to the ends of the earth. And she was part of the dazzling, world-spanning pattern that sprang from that shining city, because she had made the flying marks, because she had made the leap of power."
In Snakehead there’s a sense in which the monstrous is defeated (or at least held at bay) not so much by muscle as by art: celebrating the invention of literature, Halam’s story is a myth about how myth came to be written. This is YA fiction not only for teens but for all of us: a book that reimagines one of the oldest and most enduring of Western stories in language as beautiful as myth itself.
Rocks My Socks: In addition to re-telling the myths of Perseus and Andromeda there is also a lot of interesting information about ancient Greek politics and society. It reminds me of Mary Renault, but for children. I also love the female characters in this book; they are strong and layered and full of life. I always enjoy it when, during re-tellings, famous romantic couples are allowed to actually meet and get to know each other and fall in love over a longer period of time than it takes to kill a dragon and steal a kiss. There's also some good substance to the book and commentary on current events using the lens of the past that are rather thought-provoking, which I always enjoy.
Rocks In My Socks: There are some more modern elements and view points incorporated into the text which are a bit annoying in that they are anachronistic, but seem to be done intentionally. Mostly it's in a more modern perspective, which I don't really mind being incorporated into historical fiction. Others are obviously just meant to be jokes, though, like the 'invention' of various modern foods by the chef at the tavern. It also doesn't sit right with me that the lovely, intelligent Andromeda resigns herself to her fate, but I guess Halam had to get her to her proper place in the story somehow.
Every Book Its Reader: I'd recommend this book to teens who enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. Although set in ancient times, there are enough similarities in pacing and subject matter that fans should enjoy this story about Percy's namesake. There's great, strong characters of both sexes, so both boys and girls will have great characters to identify with, and the romance is pretty understated. Adults who enjoy fairy tales and myths re-told will find plenty to satisfy them as well.
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In spite of the playful way Ann Halam tosses all kind of ingredients into the mix - Zeus, Perseus' divine bully of a father, arrives in a sort of visionary millionnaire's yacht, and one of Perseus' friends is actually from Peru, having drifted across the Atlantic on a balsa raft, but no one believes him even though he introduces the 'opotato' to the island's menus - this is a serious treatment of the myth. It's just stunningly original, and I loved it.