Excerpt from Elektra by Jennifer Saint, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Novel

by Jennifer Saint

Elektra by Jennifer Saint X
Elektra by Jennifer Saint
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 304 pages

    May 2023, 304 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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Print Excerpt


The House of Atreus carried a curse. A particularly gruesome one, even by the standards of divine torment. The history of the family was full of brutal murder, adultery, monstrous ambition, and rather more cannibalism than one would expect. Everyone knew of it, but when the Atreidae, Agamemnon and Menelaus, stood before me and my twin sister in Sparta a lifetime ago, well, the silly stories of infants cooked and served up to their parents seemed to shimmer and crumble like dust motes in sunlight.

The two brothers were full of vitality and vigor—not handsome, exactly, but compelling, nonetheless. Menelaus' beard glinted with a reddish tint, while Agamemnon's was dark, like the curls that clustered tightly around his head. Far more handsome suitors stood before my sister—indeed, the great hall in which they gathered seemed to swell and groan with the sheer volume of sculpted cheekbones and fine shoulders, jutting jawbones and flashing eyes. She had her pick of the finest men in Greece, but Helen had eyes only for the awkward Menelaus, who shifted his powerful bulk uncomfortably and stared mutely back at her.

Daughter of Zeus, that's what the stories said of Helen. While I was born red-faced and squalling from the commonplace indignity of childbirth, my sister supposedly tapped her way delicately through a pure white eggshell and hatched whole and beautiful. The legend was adorned with fanciful details—it was well known that Zeus could adopt many forms, and on this particular occasion he had appeared to our mother feathered and snowy white, gliding down the river toward her with unmistakable purpose.

To be blessed by Zeus in such a way was a thing of glory. That's what everyone said. If Leda, our mother, had been deemed lovely enough by the ruler of the gods himself, it was a great honor to our family. It was not a disgrace to our father to raise the product of such a union himself.

And Helen's beauty was legendary indeed.

They had gathered at our home in their dozens, these suitors of Helen. How they jostled one another, surging forward, peering at her fluttering veil, eager for a glimpse of the woman named the most beautiful in the world. As the mood shifted, became restive, I noticed how their hands hovered closer to the swords at their hips. Helen noticed it too and turned to me briefly, just long enough for our eyes to meet and a moment of concern to dart between us.

At the edges of the hall, our guards stood straighter and gripped their spears a little tighter. I wondered, though, how quickly the boiling heart of the crowd might spill toward us, and how long it would take the guards to fight their way through the tumult.

Our father, Tyndareus, wrung his hands. The day had started out so promisingly for him; our storerooms overflowed with the rich gifts each young man had brought to support his own cause. I had seen him gloat over the loot and the status this glorious day had brought him. Blithely, he had placed all of his confidence in the ability of our brawny brothers to protect us as they had always done, but I had to doubt even their proficiency against the number of men who had come here to win my sister today.

I looked at Penelope. Our quiet, gray-eyed cousin could always be relied upon to keep a cool head. But Penelope did not return my frantic stare, for she was intent upon Odysseus. The two of them gazed into each other's eyes as though they wandered alone across a fragrant meadow, rather than being trapped in a hall with a hundred fraying tempers and the spark about to be struck to light them all into flame.

I rolled my eyes. Odysseus was here as one of Helen's suitors just like the rest of them, but of course nothing that man did was as it seemed. We could rather do with his famous wits in this situation, I thought, frustrated that he instead preferred to lose himself in some romantic daydream.

Excerpted from Elektra by Jennifer Saint. Copyright © 2022 by Jennifer Saint. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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