‘Myths are elastic: this is simply my version, another way into the great store of stories that is Greek mythology,’ Philip Womack wrote in the preface to The Double Axe, his reworking of the Theseus myth for young adults. In this, his seventh and latest novel, The Arrow of Apollo, he again revisits the ancient world; but this story, while drawing deeply and with great intelligence on classical mythology, is beguilingly original.
It is fifteen years since the fall of Troy. New cities have been built, the gods are gradually dispersing and the war is now ‘just a story … fainter and fainter with every retelling’. A wounded centaur arrives in Lavinium, the city founded by the fleeing Trojan prince Aeneas, bearing a mysterious casket containing one half of the arrow of Apollo. The arrow is a powerful weapon that alone can slay the monstrous Python, whose dark forces are massing, ready to seize the spaces the gods have left. It falls to Aeneas’s son Silvius and the Carthaginian orphan Elissa to travel to Achaea, home of their sworn enemies, to locate the other half.
Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in Mycenae, all is not well in the accursed house of Orestes, son of Agamemnon. Orestes’s son Tisamenos is grieving for his mother and struggling to countenance his father’s remarriage. The house is caught in a