A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

DSC01534This is a beautiful novel. It is a modern retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus, a great musician and poet with an affinity for the natural world. The tale is very whimsical and set in ‘the North’. There is fantastic imagery of water, snakes, revelry, dolphins and music throughout the novel which tie it closely with the mythical Orpheus; but the characters are modern and there are cell phones and other such items which clearly place it in a ‘modern’ category. The blending of both is managed masterfully, as is the narration of the story which is told from the perspective of Ella’s best friend Claire.

It is an interesting story because if you know the myth, you know the outcome from the start. Orpheus and Eurydice are the lovers in the myth and Orpheus goes to rescue Eurydice from the underworld. He succeeds in persuading Hades to release her through his music, but only on the condition that he doesn’t look at her until they have left the underworld. They are just about there when he, thinking they are safe, looks back at her and she vanishes back into death because he turned around too soon. I wondered if the name choice of ‘Ella’ was meant to slightly distance the novel from the myth or give some hope of a happier ending with a different character. Otherwise Ella is just a nicer name, and a more modern one at that.

The writing of the novel itself, as in the typeface, is really cool. It makes use of font, spacing and white on black text to show the journey into the underworld. The images add to the mood of the story and make it quite an aesthetically pleasing experience to read. The copy I read was an e-book from Netgalley but the hard copy is absolutely beautiful. It would be a beautiful addition to any bookshelf, seriously. I would have bought it if I wasn’t going overseas this year!


My only issue with the book is the question of modernisation. Sometimes I am a bit skeptical about this, and while I really enjoyed the modern adaptation of this story I couldn’t help but wonder why the author chose to set it in a modern and different culture than the original? Wouldn’t this event have taken place in the past already? Is this therefore a repeat? If not, where did the myth come from? Is it just an excuse to avoid having the keep things historically accurate?

The novel touches on issues of death and the afterlife, fate and love, true love, and sexuality. That said, I think it is still a children’s or young adult book. Maybe young young adult, if that’s a thing (I recently read a really old book which said ‘tween fiction’ on the cover, so that’s a thing). Basically, it would be suitable for young adults but not a challenging read. There are sexual references, but nothing graphic and there is a lot of drinking and partying or revelry (as one might expect with a classical Greek hero as the protagonist).

Overall, I really liked this book. I love mythology and the classical world, and the whimsical feel of this story is lovely. If you have a penchant for  YA or
children’s literature, storytelling, myths and legends, and love stories then this is for you.

My rating 4/5 stars


Buy Here in beautiful hardback edition (because why wait for the paperback when the hardback is so pretty!



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