Heir to the Underworld is a finalist in the 2012 EPIC ebook awards for Best YA novel.
Feisty Frederica Fitzgerald is one day shy of her sweet sixteen when she’s nearly run over by a tall, dark dreamboat on a big black horse. Freddy can deal with the running over part—no harm done. The problem is the rider, Mr. Sex Bomb himself: Polydegmon, son of Hades and heir to the Greek Underworld.
Freddy’s hooked on Polydegmon from the start (although dude, togas went out of style several thousand years ago), being near him is enough to make her tingle down to her toes. But he’s got secrets he isn’t sharing, and trouble follows him closer than his own shadow: rabid dogs running around the suburbs, insane crows stalking Freddy and, worst of all, the feral fairies of the Wild Hunt trolling her hometown for their next bit of human game.
The closer Freddy gets to Deg, the weirder her life becomes, until Freddy discovers something about her own past that changes everything she ever thought she knew about herself. And her world…
The agony of geometry class had ended at last, and Frederica Fitzgerald shot out the back gate of her high school, beating the swarm of her fellow students to freedom. Freddy trudged uphill to her house without stopping to hang. The Dreaded Math Homework would not wait.
The road didn’t have a sidewalk, but it wasn’t used much by cars. Keeping well to the side anyway, her thigh occasionally brushed the rusted metal of the road divider as she walked. She glanced over the divider now and then, gazing down the incline at the hillside dotted with pine trees and frosted with their needles. The smell of the needles prickled deep in her nose, chalky and dry.
The promise of a storm loomed in the sky and she pulled the hood of her sweatshirt over her hair with a sigh. Yesterday was gorgeous. Sunny. Warm. Now the world looked like a sludgy dish drain.
She dug her MP3 player out, tucked her earbuds in, and cranked the volume on an old Regina Spektor album, resigning herself to a long–and potentially wet–walk home.
As the music blared in her ears, ol’Regina sing-screaming about “fightin’ for her honor,” Freddy’s nerves prickled, a bizarre tension gripping her. The air itself seemed wrong, too thick, sparking with power that weighed her lungs down as she breathed in. She whipped her head around, worried someone was following her, but the road remained empty.
A black horse appeared beside her, almost on top of her, in the road. She careened away from the huge, bucking animal, and backed into the guardrail so hard she toppled over the side. She slammed into the ground; the air whooshed out of her lungs with an aching pain. Pine needles crunched beneath her body as she slid down the slight incline.
Laying there gasping and shaken as she stared at the canopy of pines, Freddy tried to understand where the horse had come from. Even with her earbuds in, she should have heard the animal coming, should have seen it on the road ahead of her.
Had a freaking horse materialized out of thin air?
The horse whinnied and she bolted upright, irrationally scared the animal would jump the guardrail, but then she noticed the animal’s rider. The rider’s muscles strained in his bare arms as he brought the horse to heel with a sharp tug of the reins. The brutish horse glowered at her, but his agitation eased at last.
Freddy gulped, and her heart stopped trying to batter its way out of her chest.
The rider dismounted, leather soles slapping on the pavement as he landed. A floppy straw hat screened his face from view, and he kept his back to Freddy as he soothed his stallion.
The rider wore some kind of historical costume, a molded leather breastplate over a short-sleeved blue tunic. A woolen cloak in a darker blue draped over his left shoulder and fastened to the right one by an ornate plant-shaped pin. He didn’t have any pants on under his tunic. Seriously weird. Sturdy leather sandals laced to mid-calf completed his ensemble. Freddy wasn’t an expert, but she thought he was going for a sort of Greco-Roman look.
Why he’s wearing his costume out and about, trampling people on a monster black horse, I do not know.
After a minute more had passed, with the rider still crooning to his now-calm horse and ignoring her, Freddy snapped out, “Oh, don’t bother about me. It’s cool. I don’t mind that your horse nearly killed me.” Nerves still shocky after the close call, her voice broke. Embarrassed, she swallowed the lingering fear, not wanting this rude stranger to see her so scared.
The rider turned to her, mouth open, eyes wide as they flitted all over her face. He half-stepped toward her, his voice harsh and low. “Who are you?”
As far as heartfelt and concerned apologies went…this one was somehow lacking.
If he’d apologized or, hey, asked if she was all right, Freddy would have been fine. But his total lack of concern nearly undid her control, causing pointless, immature tears to pool in her eyes. Deciding that anger was more soothing than bawling, Freddy glared at the shadowed face under the bizarre hat. “What are you wearing?”
He blinked. “Beg pardon?”
“Your clothes.” She gestured up and down to indicate his whole outrageous outfit. “You’re going for a Roman solider, right? Is there a reenactment around here or something?”
Wariness sprang into the boy’s eyes, and another flash of annoyance zipped through Freddy. If he was that embarrassed by his hobby, why was he riding around in public wearing a costume?
He spoke slowly, scanning the ground with his eyes. “Yes. There is a gathering of reenactors up the hill.” He had the faintest trace of an accent, nothing she recognized, but the formality of his words and the precise, clipped way he talked showed he wasn’t from SoCal. That made sense, not too many Roman reenactors in America, after all. “I was running late, you see.”
Figures. She clenched her teeth in irritation. “Is that why you were riding your horse like a freaking idiot?”
The rider laughed suddenly, a sincere, bone-deep rumble. “Yes, I am an idiot. Beg pardon. But you should learn to look where you are going.”
Freddy popped her mouth open in violent indignation. “You ran me over, pal.”
“Are you injured?” He moved forward and pushed his hat off his head.
To call him attractive would be a modest assessment.
Basically…the guy was hot. Tall. Dark. So handsome it made her teeth hurt. She stared at him, suddenly aware that pollen and dirt covered her, that pokey pine needles clung to her clothes, that she was grubby and sweaty and totally not hot just then. Hiding her embarrassment, she straightened her spine and met his stare.
His eyes glinted, an odd amber color that caught the light and made her stomach flutter. The charming smile broadened as she stared at him. Leaning over the guardrail, he offered her his hand.
Rolling her eyes, Freddy forced herself to stand unassisted and clambered over the guardrail, still pissed about the “look where you’re going” remark. “Enjoy playing dress-up!” she tossed off as she stalked past the rider and his stupid horse with her chin high, intent on continuing her interrupted walk home. She had geometry homework to do, and this guy–hot as he was–seemed a little too arrogant for her tastes.
Even if he was a stone-cold fox.
The rider followed her, towing his horse behind. “Where are you going? Perhaps I can escort you there to make amends.”
“I am going away from you.” Freddy redoubled her pace, feeling the first stirring of alarm that maybe the boy was dangerous somehow. Why was he following her?
He fell easily in step beside her and leaned over to peer at her face. “Do I know you?”
Freddy turned so her hood shadowed her face, hoping to signal she was not in the mood to be flirted with. “No, you don’t.”
“Perhaps I know your father.”
Freddy paused and looked over at the boy, especially at his meticulous historical costume. Her dad used to perform on the local Renaissance Faire circuit, and this kid seemed like a good candidate to be a RenFaire fanboy. “Do you go to the SoCal RenFaire?”
He smiled, absently reaching behind to stroke his horse’s long nose as the animal shifted from foot to foot, looking antsy. “I do. Your father works there, yes?”
She half-shrugged her shoulder. “He used to perform in the jousts. Then he made swords. He’s retired now.”
“I think I remember his booth. And you. You helped him run it.”
Freddy stopped and faced him. She gave a slow nod. “Yeah, but I was younger then.”
He gave a self-deprecating snort. “So was I, and far too shy to talk to the pretty girl with dimples at the sword booth.”
Heat splashed over her cheekbones, and she fought not to smile and flash said-dimples at him now. This adorable boy had thought she was cute as a gawky eleven year old?
So…what did he think of her now?
Oh, jeez, Fred. Just because Mr. Roman Armor was gorgeous, didn’t mean she had to go all gooey over him and turn into a fluttering nitwit. Right?
Right. Duly chastened, she still let him fall in step beside her as she walked home.
He tugged the reins of his reluctant horse but somehow managed to match her long strides. “Does your dad still sell swords? He did excellent work, I recall. And I could actually afford one now.”
At those words excitement flared along Freddy’s nerve endings, but she kept her face bland. Her parents had said they couldn’t afford to get her the new laptop she wanted for her birthday. But her dad’s swords sold for really good money. Darting a look over to her new friend, at his well-made and thoroughly authentic looking outfit–not to mention the bit of fine horseflesh he dragged behind himself–plans for her new laptop hatched in her mind.
How old was he? He looked about her age, maybe a year or two older, but she didn’t know anyone near her own age who talked the way this guy did. Or anyone with several hundred dollars to burn on an ornamental sword. Owning his own horse, this dude probably had a rich mommy and daddy.
She turned to him and pasted the friendliest of friendly smiles on her face, ready to lay the groundwork for a sword-selling push. “What’s your name?”
“My name is Smith.”
“Yes.” He beamed at her. “Guy Smith.”
“Right.” That is a made up name if I have ever heard one.
“I really enjoyed this book…All the characters are funny and real, and both of our protagonists get their own say. Freddy, despite her odd name, is very relatable and genuine; you never get the feeling that she shows any emotion that would not be completely justified for any of the odd situations she seems to find herself in. She’s strong and persistent, yet she is always just a (relatively normal) 16-year-old girl.”
~4 Stars from Megan at Night Owl Reviews
The Story Behind the Story
It all began a long, long time ago when I was a kid– fourth grade or so. My sister and I spent every Saturday afternoon watching the Hercules and Xena TV shows on what was then the WB network. I already had a good working knowledge of Greek mythology due to fondness for an illustrated book of Greek myths in the school library. Herc and Xena made the myths cool, though. More accessible. And they captured my young imagination.
One night I dreamed that an ancient Greek prince had traveled through time for my help, catching up to me on my long walk home from school. That particular image of a young man in ancient armor on a horse walking down a SoCal sidewalk, made a big impression on me. I remembered the dream years and years later, always meaning to use it somehow for a story.
In community college, late 2004, I found Holly Black’s YA books at the same time I finally broke down and started reading Harry Potter. This glut of YA material inspired me profoundly, making it so one day, in early 2005, while waiting for a class to start, I pulled out a writing notebook, and my heroine, Freddy, just started talking to me.
“Heir to the Underworld” went through tons of versions and revisions. I have maybe five completely different openings, and about a half dozen discarded chapters sitting on my hard-drive (including five chapters of the first draft that were written in first person from Freddy’s POV). I battered away at this book for years. I put it down for months at a time, then picked it up and cut whole swaths of material.
I’d let my sister read those first five rough first person chapters and she went a little crazy waiting for me to finish the book. She wanted to know how the story ended. In fact, she wanted to know what the story I had eventually told with these characters was.
Finally, three years after scribbling the first story bits in my notebook, in 2008, I finished the first complete draft of Heir to the Underworld.
This book has had a lot of ups and downs. It was briefly published my a small epublisher that has since closed its doors and, finally, I decided to self-publish it myself. Heir to the Underworld is currently a finalist in the 2012 EPIC ebook awards.
Polydegmon: The one name you pronounce the way it looks!
This was a painting I commissioned of my two main characters from artist Nicole Chartrand. (Check her out, she does great stuff!)
This was drawn when I still thought the heroine, Freddy, would be a brunette. She’s a redhead now, which, all around, fits her better.
For the curious, here’s my old cover from Sapphire Blue:
Anyone interested in trying the fabulous fried zucchini mentioned in this book, go to any of the Everest Restaurant locations in Southern California. The location in Tujunga makes their zucchini particularly well. There’s also a place called Telly’s in Santa Clarita who do the same sort of PHENOMENAL fried zucchini. Really, it is addictive.
The Santa Fe Dam in Irwindale is a real place. It’s where they hold the SoCal Renaissance Faire every year. Very pretty. The country club next to the Dam is NOT a real place. I made it up. Out of my head.
This book’s original title was Frederica Fitzgibbons and the Heir to the Underworld. Which was then shortened to Frederica and the Heir to the Underworld. And now, these days, it simply goes by Heir to the Underworld. It’s a good thing the book’s being published now or the title might eventually have just been pared down to Heir. Frederica’s last name has also changed four times. So far.
The heroine’s first name “Frederica” is an homage to the Great Georgette Heyer, the Queen of Regency Romance, who’s book Frederica is one of my all-time favorite novels.
I stole the names for my hero, Polydegmon, and his two brothers from their father Hades. “Polydegmon”, “Clymenus” and “Eubuleus” are all alternative names for Hades, because ancient Greeks and Romans thought it was bad luck to say the name of the Lord of the Underworld. Good luck for me because I didn’t have to think too hard to find my hero’s name! This is also true for “Kore”, which is another name for “Persephone”.
I made up out of whole cloth the myths of Polydegmon and Clymenus’ births. I’m tricksy like that.
Deg’s horse, Balios, is one of the horses Achilles used to pull his chariot during the Trojan War. As you can probably guess, the stables in the Underworld have some of the best horseflesh ever bred. ;P
Interested in seeing the historically accurate floor-plan and model of a Roman villa like Clymenus’s house? Go here.
To help me write an ancient Greco-Roman hybrid wedding, I went to the Ancient Weddings website.
I based the geography of the Underworld on this map.
To learn about daily life in ancient Rome I highly recommend: Daily Life in Ancient Rome by Jerome Carcopino. Although it is a dense book.
And to learn more about the many gods mentioned in this book, The Encyclopedia Mythica is a fantastic resource. I can and do spend hours poking around on there, hopping from article to article.