by Cassandra Page
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
“Beauty and the Beast meets Ancient Greece, with a steampunk twist”
Every year, Rheia’s father brought home four prisoners of war, sacrifices to keep the demon Typhein bound. Rheia never gave them much thought … until her father’s enemy made her one of them. Now she has two weeks to find a way to escape death at the hands of the Beast and either save her people or condemn them to destruction.
The last thing Rheia expected was to fall in love with the Beast oath-bound to kill her.
The sound of footsteps on the road outside their home carried clearly in the quiet night air, as did the creak of the door as her father let himself into the villa. The soft voice of Rheia’s mother greeted him. He replied with a murmur. The bar thunked into its bracket, securing the door, and then footsteps ascended the stairs as they crept up to their own bedroom. It was next to Rheia’s, with Aias’s on the other side, closest to the stairs. Although they drew a heavy cloth across their door, she still caught snatches of their conversation over the sounds of her father removing his sandals and dropping them in the corner.
The word lottery caught her ear and, before she could question the wisdom of it, she rolled out of bed and padded to her door on bare feet, pulling her own hanging cloth aside so she could better hear what they were saying.
“I told them that,” Loukios was saying in a tired voice. “I could’ve had my crew ready and at the dock with the tide at dawn. But the priests argued against it and the king listened to them, not me.”
“What reason did they give?” Antheia’s voice was tight.
“They said it would mean renewed war with the helots, who would claim they had already given the required number of thysies this year. If we Oreareans are too careless to keep them alive, that is our problem.” His words were bitter.
“For followers of the god of war, the priests have taken a remarkably cowardly position,” Antheia said acerbically. Rheia covered her mouth to muffle her gasp. She had never heard her mother speak ill of a priest before.
Loukios grunted an agreement, before adding reluctantly, “But they are right. And more citizens would die in a new war than would die in this single lottery.”
“Why then could the king not buy a young slave girl, provide the thysia himself?”
There was a long pause. When Rheia’s father spoke, his voice was low, reluctant. “Honestly? I think the temple sees this as an opportunity. A lottery would remind the city of the god’s power—of the temple’s power. And it would silence dissent about the need for continued subjugation of the helots.”
“But … a lottery? They were awful. I never wanted our children subjected to that.” Antheia’s voice sounded hoarse, as though she spoke around tears. “When will it be?”
“Tomorrow. They don’t want to give people a chance to hide their daughters, or to marry them off.” Rheia’s heart leapt into her throat at the word. Daughters. Of course they’d need a girl to replace a girl. As Charis had said, the god liked balance. But hearing her father say it in such tones of distress drove the reality home.
Across from her, on the other side of her parents’ doorway, Aias’s startled gaze stared back at her from a crack in the fabric at his own bedroom door.
“Loukios, should we…?”
“We can’t. Draconaidas is already looking for an excuse to call for my exile. We must be above reproach.”
Draconaidas was Areus’s high priest. Rheia bit her lip, wondering briefly what her father had done to earn his displeasure, but her thoughts skittered away from the question like a fish on a line, drawn back to the bigger issue. A lottery.
“But Rheia—” Antheia said.
“—will be fine. There will be hundreds of names in the lottery. Thousands, even.” Loukios’s voice was soothing.
Rheia’s fingers fluttered to her forehead as she remembered the kiss of benediction in her dreams, and her nightmare the night before. The kiss from Eidoneus, God of the Underworld. Even as the recollection surfaced, she saw his face in her mind’s eye, watching her with kind eyes and a sad smile. The conviction that hers would be the ostra drawn tomorrow crept over her. With tears burning her eyes, she looked at her younger brother. His expression was stricken; he stared at her as though she were already dead.
Cassandra Page is a mother, author, editor and geek. She lives in Canberra, Australia’s bush capital, with her son and two Cairn Terriers. She has a serious coffee addiction and a tattoo of a cat – despite being allergic to cats. She has loved to read since primary school, when the library was her refuge, and loves many genres, all of them speculative fiction. When she’s not reading or writing, she engages in geekery, from Doctor Who to AD&D. Because who said you need to grow up?
I noticed that Rheia is listed as a fantasy rather than a historical fantasy – is it actually set in Ancient Greece?
Not exactly, no. The kingdom of Oreareus in which Rheia is set is inspired by the world of Ancient Greece – from the culture and the aesthetic to the Minotaur, the Minoans and the island of Crete. But I’m no historian, and I took a fair amount of creative license: the steampunk elements of my world, as minor as they are, are the most obvious markers of that.
That being said, there was a long time there where my favourite web searches all started with the words “Ancient Greek” and finished with everything from clothes to meals to plant life. Rheia is the first novel I’ve written that isn’t an urban fantasy set in modern day Australia, and I wanted to get the world-building as right as I possibly could.
What made you decide to switch genres from urban fantasy?
My favourite thing about urban fantasy is the combination of the familiar and the strange, and the ability to insert a little bit of magic into the real world. (I think we can all agree that the real world definitely needs more magic!) In a way, Rheia is just as true to that basic principle as any of my other books.
Rheia’s story had also been burning a hole in my brain for years, and it was such a relief to finally get it out and onto the computer screen. I’m sure I’ll branch out into other (probably still speculative fiction) genres down the track. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that I can write whatever story has taken hold of my brain at the time rather than being tied to one genre. It’s very freeing.
How long have you been writing?
My first attempt to write a novel was when I was about fourteen; I worked on it with a friend. It was a story about mermaids that was terribly Mary Sue-ish and derivative of My Sister Sif (a middle grade novel by Australian author Ruth Park). I don’t think we made it past a few chapters.
In my early twenties I tried to co-write a fantasy novel with my then-boyfriend, but that … didn’t end well either. After that, I realised I was better off going it alone, and tinkered with a few ideas. Still, it wasn’t until I was in my thirties, after the giant kick in the posterior that was my divorce, that I finally sat down and finished writing my first novel, Isla’s Inheritance.
Rheia is the sixth full-length novel I’ve released. This writing thing is definitely habit-forming!
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