Hera by Jennifer Saint

I am delighted to be one of those leading off the blogtour for Jennifer Saint’s fourth novel, another feminist retelling of the stories of Ancient Greek Godesses and Heroines, with a dose of Gods and Heroes and other mortals on the side. Before Hera, first came Ariadne, telling the story of her escape from the minotaur and life marooned on Naxos with Dionysus. This was followed by Elektra, telling the story of the Trojan War through her voice, plus that of her mother Clytemnestra, and Trojan prophetess Cassandra. Third was last year’s Atalanta, telling the story of the young woman whom Artemis championed to join the Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. I enjoyed them all immensely, although after Elektra I felt completely ‘Troyed out’ due to the number of novels I’ve read in recent years retelling that story, even if they were all from different perspectives. I started young, doing Virgil’s Aeneid book 2 which includes the Trojan Horse for my Latin O-level, (“Timeō Danaōs et dōna ferentēs” and all that, as Laocoön says).

I was wondering who would be the subject of Saint’s next book, and I was absolutely delighted that she picked a goddess this time, Hera, because her story hasn’t really been retold in novel form by anyone else, and it’s one that I know very little about. As with most of the Greek myths, there are different versions of each story, and Saint has gone with the version of Hera’s youth where she was brought up apart from her other siblings by Tethys and Oceanus, rather than the one where she was swallowed by her father Chronos, along with all her siblings but Zeus who defeated him and made him regurgitate them!

However, the main timeline begins later, as Hera walks through the battleground after Zeus, Hera and their siblings defeat Chronos, consigning him to be imprisoned in Tartarus and thus ending the time of the titans and marking the advent of the Olympian gods and goddesses as ruling deities, and it goes through to the end of their era.

I hadn’t really appreciated that Hera was actually Zeus’s sister: Chronos and Rhea had six offspring, the others being Poseidon, Hestia, Demeter and Hades. Guess what happens next? Zeus divvies up the realms between the boys; Poseidon will takeover the oceans, Hades the Underworld, Zeus having engineered himself the top job. Thus begins a long story of sibling rivalry, Hera couldn’t bear having been left out. When it is suggested that she should become Zeus’s wife and be the Goddess of Marriage, she holds out for as long as she can, but realising that it may be easier to control her brother from within, she finally relents. But being the wife of Zeus is impossible for he is the least faithful of husbands, siring many other children, and Hera is jealous and vengeful.

He takes what he wants, by force or deception, by brutality or charm, and she doesn’t ever know why he chooses one of the other. All she knows is that he leaves a trail of broken women in his wake, and she is the most broken of them all.

Her relationships with her own two oldest children, Ares and Hephaestus are tempestuous too. As time goes on and Zeus’s exploits get more and more outrageous, she finds herself allying with the snake-goddess Ekhidna who hides deep underground, and praying for guidance from Gaia who was there before them all.

It’s a very complicated story, full of rivalries between the gods, goddesses, immortals and mortals. Although you have much sympathy for Hera, she is imperious, feisty, and plays games with other’s lives with the best of them. However, as the goddess of marriage and childbirth, she is revered. She does also have a primordial connection with Gaia and is a strong feminist and able to rally other goddesses and immortals to her side when it comes down to it, she has power and she will use it. Saint paints her in all her colours – including those of the peacock, birds whose eyes she created and pulled her chariot. The gorgeous turquoise and gold endpapers echo the cover – all of Saint’s novels have had wonderful covers by Michaela Alcaino.

This fourth novel had a lot of ground to cover, and I was glad of the partial family tree of the Titans and Olympians at the beginning, which at first I needed to refer back to often. In fact, the settings of her previous novels with their mortal heroines all pass through this history of the Olympians, it’s that big a story. Through it all, I felt I got to understand Hera, and that Saint is able to bring everything together into such an enjoyable narrative and keep it fresh and coherent is a big achievement; this is maybe her best book yet.

But where next? Well, I’d love to read her take on Persephone….

Source: Review copy – thank you! Wildfire hardback, 388 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

5 thoughts on “Hera by Jennifer Saint

  1. Lory says:

    I have yet to read one of the books by Jennifer Saint, but I really should! If you think this is her best I may start here.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      This one chimed with me because I knew little about the sibling rivalries between the Olympians and their many offspring. But read any of them, although maybe not Elektra if you’re over-familiar with Trojan War. narratives.

      • Lory says:

        Yes, I might put off the Trojan War, I have read a few of those retellings. Divine sibling rivalry sounds intriguing.

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