Set against the outbreak of the Trojan war, Luna McNamara’s captivating retelling of the love story between Psyche and Eros takes inspiration from Greek and Roman mythology, whilst putting a fresh spin on fabled gods and famous legends of classical literature. Though it’s told from the dual perspective of the titular fated lovers, this is very much the story of Psyche – fierce, brave and fearless in her pursuit of becoming the hero she was prophesied at birth to be. But what happens when love becomes a part of the equation? And just what is the spirited young mortal willing to do in order to fight for the god who captures her heart? The short answer: she’ll do whatever it takes.
Born into a world of capricious gods and heroes, Psyche might be the Princess of Mycenae but she dreams of a different future. Fated to conquer a monster feared by the gods themselves, Psyche spends her youth with a blade and bow, training under the watchful eye of the huntress Atalanta and preparing to fulfil her destiny. She quickly gains the admiration and respect of her people but not everyone is enamoured by the headstrong mortal. Aphrodite – the Goddess of Love and Beauty – takes exception to Psyche and in a spiteful fit of pique, sends her adopted son Eros to strike Psyche with a cursed arrow. It’s a favour Eros soon comes to regret.
World-weary Eros – God of Desire – has retreated to a life of peace and solitude. The last thing he wants is to become involved in the chaos of mortals. But when he’s accidentally pricked by the very arrow intended for Psyche, he’s struck with a curse that will doom him to fall in love with the first person he sets eyes on. Which, as fate would have it, turns out to be Psyche herself. Thrown together by forces beyond their control, Psyche and Eros go from tentative strangers to devoted lovers, only to be torn away from each other just as they find happiness. With some gods on their side and others transpiring to keep them apart, Psyche and Eros must find their way back to each other before it’s too late.
When I walked through the Lion’s Gate in my armour, a victor at the height of my triumph, I could hear people comparing me to manifold goddesses: Artemis for my skill, Athena for my cunning, Aphrodite for my beauty. Of all these, it was only Aphrodite who took issue with the comparison. She never could tolerate competition.”
We’ve been treated to many gripping mythological novels with a feminist slant over the past few years – from Madeline Miller’s Circe and Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne to Claire Heywood’s Daughters of Sparta and Natalie Haynes’ Stone Blind. Psyche and Eros is an amalgamation of all these different tales, weaving the lives, loves and losses of legendary characters into one story. Psyche’s quest to be reunited with Eros takes her on an epic journey across dangerous terrain and into the domains of gods, where she encounters the likes of Zephyrus, Prometheus, Aphrodite, Medusa, Persephone, Demeter and Hekate, amongst others. But whilst it’s these gods and goddesses who are the cause of all the havoc that transpires across the novel, the heart of the story is something that feels inherently human: love.
Psyche spends the beginning of the novel pursuing a heroic greatness. Yet as she ventures out into the world, love becomes her driving force. Whether it’s the complicated love she has for Eros, the inherent love she has for her parents, or the sisterly love she has for Atalanta and Iphigenia – who are both given their own potted histories and tragedies – Psyche always follows her heart. And it’s a good one too; she’s brave, loyal and compassionate. She understands that the world is not always kind but that kindness can still be given freely. In many ways this is a coming-of-age tale, travelling with Psyche as she goes from a wide-eyed girl to a wise woman. By the end, it’s no surprise that she has more sense and understanding of the world than many of the gods put together.
Though Luna McNamara makes this feel very much like Psyche’s story, the book never overlooks Eros. He’s an ancient god with a divine power he doesn’t always fully understand. It takes a spirited mortal with a big heart and a daring determination to open his eyes to what it truly means to love and be loved in return. Featuring all the pangs of first love, Psyche and Eros is a sweeping novel that combines light romance, heroic adventures and thoughtful allegories. A little more romance would have been the divine icing on the cake, but it’s difficult to pack in too many swoony scenes when the characters are separated for such large chunks of the novel.
If you like your mythological books to stick closely to the original source material, McNamara’s retelling might cause your head to spin. There are a great many shifts in details – from the characters’ personality traits and motives to the relationships that link them (for example, Penelope is the sister of Helen here, not Clytemnestra). But if you’re searching for something that switches up popular myths and offers up a modern angle on classical characters, Psyche and Eros more than delivers. It’s an absorbing story with an endearing central duo and a sprawling cast of well-known side characters. There’s potential for all manner of spin-off stories too – perhaps the mischievous but heartbroken Zephyrus could be next?
Psyche and Eros is published by Orion on 25 May 2023