Tuesday, July 17, 2012

[review] Sarah Diemer - The Dark Wife

Title: The Dark Wife
Author: Sarah Diemer
Source: Personal collection
Format read: Ebook
Buy from: Amazon | Smashwords
(Note: Also available for download on the author's website, with a suggestion of a donation afterward if you enjoyed the book.)
Summary (via Goodreads):  
Three thousand years ago, a god told a lie. Now, only a goddess can tell the truth.

Persephone has everything a daughter of Zeus could want--except for freedom. She lives on the green earth with her mother, Demeter, growing up beneath the ever-watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But when Persephone meets the enigmatic Hades, she experiences something new: choice.

Zeus calls Hades "lord" of the dead as a joke. In truth, Hades is the goddess of the underworld, and no friend of Zeus. She offers Persephone sanctuary in her land of the dead, so the young goddess may escape her Olympian destiny.

But Persephone finds more than freedom in the underworld. She finds love, and herself.

The Dark Wife is a YA novel, a lesbian revisionist retelling of the Persephone and Hades myth.
Random paragraph: "'You know, you're very pretty when you pout.' He was floating above the ground, winged sandals fluttering, and he bent forward to brush a kiss on my cheek. 'You must enter the Underworld alone, Persephone. A symbolic journey, if you will.'"

This is a wonderful love story.

The Hades/Persephone myth is one of my favorites, so when I heard about this book sometime last year, I knew I had to read it. I also loved the idea of a female Hades, and I wanted to see how it was handled.

Be forewarned: this book is squishy. It will quite possibly give you an overdose of warm and fuzzy feelings. Persephone and Hades' relationship is by far the biggest part of this book, so if you don't want something that's entirely romance, you might want to give this a pass. If that's what you're looking for, though, then onward! (Also, trigger warning for mentions of rape.)

In the beginning of the novel, Persephone is happy on Earth, slowly becoming interested in Charis, a water nymph. While stargazing, she admits to Charis that she's afraid of going to Olympus and being introduced to the higher gods: Charis replies, "You have nothing to be afraid of," revealing to Persephone that her voice was cursed to sound deep and stony. However, Persephone doesn't mind:
"I have been cursed for my past indiscretions," she smiled at me sadly. I thought that, if you heard my voice, you would find a better companion."

We stared at one another for a long moment, feeling raging through me--pain that she had hidden her secret from me for so long, untrusting, assuming that I would, that I could, throw her away. I didn't know how to respond, but I forced out a whisper: "You're not a plaything to discard. I would never do that to you."
They share a kiss afterwards, and so, Persephone falls in love for the first time.

They make plans for their future together. However, tragedy strikes when one day, Charis doesn't appear at their usual meeting place. Persephone searches and sees something horrible: Zeus picked Charis as one of his lustful targets. When she screams and tries to get him away, he laughs, turns Charis into a rosebush, and disappears.

From that day forward, Persephone swears vengeance on Zeus. She is dragged by Demeter to Olympus, and when she sees Hades, she is fascinated:
And then, "I am Hades," she said. My world fell away. Hades ... Hades, the lord of the underworld ... was a woman.

"But, but..." I spluttered, and she watched me with catlike curiosity, head tilted to the sound of my voice as I attempted to regain my senses. "They call you the lord of the Underworld. I thought--"

"It is a slur," she breathed.
Hades kisses Persephone's hand in an encounter seen by all the other gods, and Persephone becomes obsessed.

Later, while picking flowers, Persephone inadvertently stumbles upon a portal to the underworld and sees Hades rising from her chariot. The resulting quake causes Persephone to injure her ankle. Hades heals her, and offers an invitation: "Come to my kingdom, and you will be free." After Zeus courts her days later with an invitation to Olympus, Persephone takes Hades up on her offer.

Seeing Persephone grow in the Underworld was a joy to read. She knows that there is happiness with Hades and Pallas, a fellow companion, but she is a child of the Earth and misses the world above. She also struggles with leaving Demeter and falling in love so quickly again after Charis. I found her to be a fleshed-out, caring character.

I really liked what Diemer did with the Greek myths here. I saw some complaints that Zeus was a bit too evil in this, but weirdly, I don't think I've ever seen a take this blatantly negative... and he was always a womanizing bastard, so this wasn't out of the territory at all. I especially liked her take on the Underworld, particularly the Elysian Fields. Commonly, they're known as a place where heroes are honored after their deaths; in The Dark Wife, they are consumed by guilt, struggling with never finding forgiveness. This becomes a major plot point later on, and I found it very well-done.

I also have to note Diemer's prose: she writes emotion wonderfully. I found myself highlighting tons of passages on my e-reader:
Perhaps my heart, too, was turning to stone. I'd heard legends about Hades' heart: a black diamond, some claimed it was. Cold and hard. But I knew it was neither. She intoned the names of the newly dead each day like a prayer, her eyes soft with compassion. And each day, she gazed at me, and ... I knew I was seen.
My eyes drank her in: her long, straight nose, her soft lips, her dark, liquid eyes. I memorized her, every inch of her. The way that her neck curved down and in to the two bones, fragile as birds, that met in the hollow I had pressed my lips against, tasted. I memorized the gentle gaze that she reserved just for me, and I memorized the way that she looked at me--now--her eyes flashing, when she wanted me, desired me with all her heart.
And when the action happens, when the dead stir and Persephone has her final confrontation with Zeus, she doesn't back down at all. She's a great heroine, which is something desperately needed in YA.

This book made me sigh and my heart flutter. I really enjoyed it. 

Overall: If you're into mythology and want a non-heteronormative story, give this a try.

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