Welcome to the third issue of Random Books and Coffee Reviews. I don’t know how many of you have reviewed books before, even e-books, but I’ll admit both come with their own set of struggles. Perhaps my Book Dragon brain is used to turning the pages rather than tapping a screen or misplacing my E-reader. Looking at the looming pile of unread books collecting dust in my Book Cave doesn’t help. Anyway, on to the subject of today’s review.
The book I’ll be reviewing today is The Dark Wife by Sarah Diamer. It’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone but as a lesbian romance filled with the soft, fluffy, and squishy things readers and members of any fandom refer to as “Feels!” You can practically feel the emotions as you read the story, fingers clutching your reading device as your eyes hungrily devour the words before you. Seriously, it’s practically pomegranate in literary form it’s that good. I can’t count the amount of times I was craving the juicy sweet and sour fruit while I was reading this book. I’ll try not to drool on my keyboard as I write this, so I’ll get to the review.
The book tells an alternative story behind the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone and how the seasons came to be. In this telling, Persephone lives with her mother in the Immortal Forest where she falls in love with a nymph, Charis. I won’t spoil what happens for those who haven’t read it and wish to after this review, but the relationship ends with heartbreak. In addition to this, Demeter, Hera, and Aphrodite are involved in a competition in order to make their daughter’s the next generation’s queen, turning Persephone into pawn in a grand immortal game of politics.
Instead of the more known idea of Hades kidnapping Persephone, she runs away from home in order to avoid the Olympian expectations placed upon her and becoming just another plaything for Zeus. The story continues with Persephone and Hades falling in love and changing the Underworld while dealing with Zeus doing what he can to create chaos in the Underworld and bring Persephone back. Yep, he’s a tool in this interpretation, too. I don’t know if there are any retellings that don’t have him as a pervy creep who only cares about what he wants.
I can’t remember where I found this, but apparently the “original” tale goes something like this: Hades asks Zeus’s permission to marry Persephone, which he gives, so Hades brings her to the Underworld. Demeter, not told of this or asked if it was ok with her, gets upset and refuses to do her job of being the goddess of the harvest until her daughter comes back. The thing is, Hades offers equal power and half of the Underworld if Persephone will marry him, which she accepts, so they end up married. Persephone going to and from the Underworld still happens, but I prefer this version as it focuses on what the ladies want and it doesn’t have the squicky-ness of the kidnapping and, ahem, other issues.
Now, onto the good stuff.
Puppy Cerberus, enough said.
If that’s not enough of an incentive for you, then maybe the rest of the review will help. Other than offering a different perspective of the well-known myth, Persephone is a great active character who changes as the story progresses. You can tell that she and Demeter have a loving mother-daughter relationship, despite the complications of being immortal gods and, again, Zeus being a jerk. Persephone doesn’t want fame or power, instead wanting the freedom to choose the direction her life goes, which in this case is to help the souls of the Underworld and be with Hades. Hades herself is awesome: she’s a kind and just ruler who clearly cares for her subjects, she’s sweet and affectionate with Persephone, she wants the best for everyone more than herself, and doesn’t hold onto animosity that would make her into an angst-ridden cliché (there’s so much brooding you can take before you want to punch a character in the face).
The romance between Hades and Persephone is well-written and, as I’ve stated earlier, full of fluffy feels. The romantic moments are sweet yet genuine, making you root for the couple as their trials push them past their breaking point and affect those close to them. Both are aware that the stories told about them will be less than romantic, saying Hades kidnapped Persephone and kept her as a prisoner. Yet they persevere, fighting for their love and the freedom to choose each other and be together.
Their allies and friends, Pallas and Hermes, are intriguing characters as well. Both are rebels who do what they can to help the couple, Pallas serving as a peacekeeper for the dead and Hermes as a bearer of news from the world above. Pallas is a strong, caring character who’s devoted to her friends and unflinching in her belief that Persephone and Hades can change the Underworld as well as the established order of their world. Her humor and bright personality are infectious but can be stern and strong when need be. Hermes is playful and rebellious, but he clearly cares for his friends, advising Persephone as she struggles with her fate and reminding her what she’s fighting for.
For my fellow Greek Mythology fans there are various little nods to other myths and characters. There’s Pallas’s story, of course, and the ferryman of the Underworld, Charon, gets his own story arc. There’s also mention of Zeus switching genders of the other deities in the human’s tales just for the fun, an example being that, in this story, Cupid is said to be a female. This is one explanation as to why Hades is referred to as “Lord” of the Underworld, the other to be brought up later in the review.
As with any piece of literature, there are things that will limit readership. The queer relationship is obvious as well as the story being an e-book. There is one part, however, that could trigger readers, so I’ll warn you right now: there’s a scene of sexual assault in the book. I’ll understand if you choose to skip this read if such things make you uncomfortable or triggers any illnesses or anything else.
Finding things that I felt needed improvement was difficult, mostly because I enjoyed it so much. However, I did feel that the book could have been longer. Checking Goodreads I discovered that the book is less than 300 pages, so its shorter than most books I’ve read. To be honest that could be fixed by adding more to the story, which I’ll discuss more when I talk about what could make the book better. The fact that Hades is referred to as “Lord” of the Underworld due to her preference for women doesn’t make sense since the goddess Athena is openly with women, Pallas being a past lover. Thankfully those were the only issues I found while reading.
It took me a while to think of what could lengthen the story while improving it as well. I thought having more details of the political reasons behind having Persephone or one of the other young goddesses becoming queen were needed, as it’s not mentioned after Persephone leaves for the Underworld. I would have liked to have Thanatos, a character in Greek mythology who isn’t often in stories even though he’s the actual god of death, have his own story like Charon did. It also would have been nice to hear about Hades’ past relationships, as there’s a nymph in mythology Hades was with before Persephone and it was mentioned that Hades prefers women.
In conclusion, this is an addicting book that I’d highly recommend for a shorter can’t-put-down read. For those of you who are die-hard physical book fans, this just might show you the benefits of e-books. Even if you refuse to buy an e-reader, phones, computers, and tablets are good substitutes for those who’d rather reserve their funds for adding to their own book hoard.
Rating: 4.5 Cups of Coffee out of 5
Recommended for: Those who like retellings of well-known stories, Greek mythology fans, Readers looking for lady-loving romance
Coffee Recommended for Reading: A rich, strong dark or medium roast with hints of pomegranate. Or Death Wish Coffee (might do a review on this coffee in the future). Recommended with pomegranates or pomegranate-flavored snacks.
I’m still debating on what to review next, so here’s the list of options I’d like my readers to vote on:
- Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
- Mentor: a Memoir by Tom Grimes
- Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
- 3 Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
- Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen
- A Mercedes Lakey novel that I have in my TBR pile
- The Crusader Road (Pathfinder Tales) by Michael A. Stackpole
- Surprise novel that I’ve avoided for several reasons (recommended if you want to be sadistic with my sanity)
- A reader recommended novel (leave in comments)
I’ll pick at random if there’s no response or you don’t mind any of the stated options.