Lies We Sing to the Sea

Article | Issue: Apr 2023

SARAH UNDERWOOD grew up in Devon, England and has a MEng in Computational Bioengineering. She is now studying for her MPhil in Population Health Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Her debut novel, Lies We Sing to the Sea is a fantasy romance story which is inspired by Greek mythology and the tale of Penelope’s 12 hanged maids.

Read on for an extract.



In the cursed kingdom of Ithaca, each spring brings the hanging of 12 maidens, a gift to the vengeful Poseidon. But when Leto awakens from her death on the shore of a long-forgotten island, its enigmatic keeper Melantho tells her that there’s only one way the curse can be broken. Leto must kill the last prince of Ithaca …

In Lies We Sing to the Sea, debut author Sarah Underwood delivers a thrilling and breathtaking tale that will enthral readers from the very first page as they are transported to the cursed shores of Ithaca.

A reclamation of a story from thousands of years ago, Lies We Sing to the Sea is about love and fate, grief and sacrifice, and, ultimately, the power we must find within.



Leto glared at the prince, baring her teeth as best she could with the gag in her mouth, and prayed furiously that he could not see through her anger to the pain, the weakness that lay beneath. The long walk had not been kind to her injured leg. The guards had seemed to care little for her comfort – and, indeed, why would they? She would be dead within the hour.

The tears had threatened to come then, hot and fast. Leto had wiped them away furiously on her shoulders as she staggered and limped her way over the loose gravel and snapped twigs, pausing every few steps to rollher ankles and bite back low noises of pain until at last, after what felt like hours, they had arrived.

Now, she did her best to keep the weight off her injured leg as she stood atop the gallows. It musthave been made new; the wood was rough and caught on the hem of her gown as she swayed in the humid wind. The smell of pine had been comforting at first; now it was suffocating, nauseating.

The platform swayed beneath her feet – it was held up by thick ropes looped over a high, horizontal beam, then knotted tightly round stakes that had been driven deep into the sand. Once those ropes were cut, theplatform would fall, she would follow, and the rope round her throat would yank her back up. Perhaps her neck would break.

The prince cleared his throat yet again. His warm tanned skin was slick with sweat; it plastered his curls to hisforehead and made him shine like bronze in the sun. His eyes flicked back and forth across Leto’s face.

For a wretched coward who let his people starve in their beds, he was shamefully lovely, like a portrait, all hard lines and smooth skin with eyes and brows and lips in worshipful arcs of charcoal. His voice, despite the shaking, was soft and musical when he spoke. ‘As you leave this life, may your bodies be as the waves, may your bones be as the sand, may your souls fly free as the gulls and watch over us. Oh, great Lord Poseidon, accept this offering.’

His voice cracked on the last word. Then, ‘I’m so sorry,’ he said. A hushed murmur from the guards told Letothat this was not part of the script. ‘If I could do anything—’ He broke off. His eyes, still fixed on Leto, were wide and pleading.

She could almost have forgiven him. But at the last moment, as he dropped his chin in a reluctant nod, as his guard raised his sword and brought it down in a glittering arc towards the ropes holding the boards steady beneath her, the prince looked away.


The platform gave way underneath Leto’s feet and she was suspended in the air for a dazzling, terrifying moment.

Then Leto fell and the rope caught her.

She had expected pain, but it was far fiercer than she could ever have imagined: instantaneous,incomparable. It caught her in a sensation partway between pressure, ripping, and an extraordinary burning. Had her breath not been trapped by the knot round her throat, it would have been torn from her in a shrill cryof shock and agony.

Though she had sworn to herself that she would not struggle, she felt – rather than willed – her legsspasming and kicking. Her feet danced a frantic pattern in the air and, even as white spots began to tremble at the edges of her vision, she tried desperately to call out through the wad of fabric between her teeth. For whom, she was not sure. Her mother, perhaps, long dead. Her father.

She tried to gasp but could not – the iron grip on her throat would not yield. With each moment it grew tighter, and the pain grew fiercer.

Leto felt consciousness slipping between her fingers like fine threads and allowed herself to welcome it. The pain dulled; her legs stilled.

The last thing Leto felt, before the waves rose up to swallow her whole, was the peculiar sensation of being watched. Not from the land – by the prince and the rows of his guards – but from the water. Then the pain reached a dazzling, shattering crescendo and – stopped.

Oh, she thought, it is over, and died. There were flowers in her hair and the ghost of a smile on her lips; herbody fell limp like a snared bird.

On the shores of Ithaca, gentle waves lapped at the smooth stones. A distant gull cried out and another, closer,answered. The leaves of trees bristled in the breeze and the air hung in a haze thick with the scent of salt as a procession of soldiers cut the dead girls from their nooses and set them to rest – first floating, then dragged under by the weight of their gowns – in the receding tides.

As the current pulled her away from Ithaca, the little island she had spent her life always plotting, planning,hoping to leave, Leto sank quietly under the water, her eyes closed, her neck marked starkly by the rope and the scales beneath it.

And somewhere, beneath the surface, something –

someone – stirred.

Author: Sarah Underwood

Category: Children's, Teenage & educational

Book Format: Paperback / softback

Publisher: Farshore Fiction GB

ISBN: 9780008518080

RRP: $19.99

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