A Flash Of Light, The Crackle Of Electricity, The Smell Of Metal Shavings, And Taste Of Magic In The Air Sweet And Powerful And Sharp As A Razor. DaVinci Had His Machines And Merlin His Spells, But The Techno Wizards Have Both In Perfect Unison, A Mystery Even Mecha Dragons Cannot Understand. We Know The Magics Of Ink And Of Oil, And If You Seek Us, You Will Find Us In Our Workshops, Crafting A Masterpiece.
*Sadly, Andrea was unable to join the rest of us again, due to a family emergency.
Book 4: The Dark Wife
The Dark Wife, a lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth, is the debut YA novel from award-winning author of lesbian YA speculative fiction Sarah (S. E.) Diemer. Published in 2011, The Dark Wife won the 2012 Golden Crown Literary Award for Speculative Fiction, and was nominated for a Parsec Award for the first two chapters of the audiobook. Daughter of Zeus, king of the gods, and Demeter, the goddess of the Earth, Persephone grew up being told she would one day succeed Hera as queen of the gods on Olympus. She has everything a young goddess could want, except freedom.
Then one day, Zeus assaults and transforms her lover Charis into a rosebush. Soon after, she meets the enigmatic Hades, “lord” of the dead, and begins to contemplate something new: rebellion. The goddess (not god) of the Underworld then offers Persephone a chance to escape Zeus’s tyranny in the land of the dead. There, Persephone comes face to face with the truth about herself, the afterlife, and the history of the gods she thought she knew. Can she find love, and a new purpose, amongst the dead?
What did you think of the book’s setting?
Mehek: I think the distinctions between Earth, Olympus, and the Underworld offered a lot of richness to the story. You could see the River of Souls in the Underworld, and it sent a shudder down my spine every time it was mentioned. I think we could have stood for a bit more description of the Underworld as a first pan, but that might have taken away from the tightness of the overall story.
Gretchen: She has a vivid descriptive style. I loved how it felt both new and familiar. I grew up reading Greek mythology, so this is a very familiar landscape to me. Yet, the author managed to make it feel fresh and compelling. The various levels of Earth, Olympus, and Underworld reflecting the moods of the gods in charge of them was a neat worldbuilding choice.
Jeremiah: I loved the Underworld the most, but the author did an excellent job making the world itself feel real and lived in.
Michał: The portrayal of the world of Greek gods was my favorite part of the setting. It was pretty brutal, like the Greek myth could be a lot of the time. The Underworld’s first description was pretty powerful. Later on it didn’t feel as impactful.
Gretchen: What do you think changed for you about its description later on in the story? Was it just more familiar the longer Persephone stayed?
Michał: I think so. At first, it was this alien, chthonic realm. Then it just became Persephone’s home. And it lost a lot of its crushing weight.
Jeremiah: I think that was by design though. A lot of times when you first move to a new place there’s a lot of new and exciting ‘magical things’ and then it just becomes home and everything ‘magical’ is really just the normal.
Mehek: I kind of fell in love with it for that exact reason. How it became familiar/home.
Gretchen: Yes! The contrast between when the Underworld felt ‘alien’ and Earth ‘home’ to the contrary by the end of the story stood out. Suddenly the Earth was the world that felt strange. It was a great way to showcase Persephone’s character development. Speaking of which…
Did the characters resonate with you? What did you think of them in general?
Michał: Persephone’s slowly expanding awareness of the world around her worked quite well for me. Unlike with modern fantasy, at the beginning there’s a good chance the reader knows more about Persephone’s world than she does, because the Greek myth is so omnipresent in culture.
Gretchen: Oooh, that’s a good point! When we start, we think we know her story more than she does, only as the narrative progresses, we realizes, as Persephone does, that what we’ve been told isn’t accurate. We get to take the journey of realization with her.
Jeremiah: I like that for once Zeus was portrayed without the varnish of ‘roguish troublemaker’. Diemer showed him as he was: a misogynistic and abusive asshole.
Michał: The mythic Zeus is a pretty cynical answer to the question of “what would someone do if he had the power of the king of the gods”? The answer being, “whatever he damn well pleases”, both in the Greek myth and here.
Mehek: I’m kind of in love with Hades. I appreciated how human she felt and she was fleshed out and generally well developed. One of the struggles I have with first-person narration though, tends to be that the narrator, as a character in the story, feels like there is nothing to them. I enjoyed the story from Persephone’s perspective, but felt as though she wasn’t as developed as she could have been. She felt about as developed as any other first person narrator.
Gretchen: I get what you’re saying. I’m generally Not A Fan of first-person narration. I think Persephone worked better for me than most others I’ve read because we got to see her learn and change her perspective.
Michał: I don’t think this book would have worked without a first-person narration.
Mehek: You’re right. The book wouldn’t have worked if it hadn’t been in first person. But it suffers from what all books suffer from when they are in first person: limited perspective.
Gretchen: I have to say, the rest of the Greek gods were pretty tragic to me. With this abusive asshole at the helm of Olympus, the partying of the gods and Demeter’s passivity came across quite compellingly as methods of coping with Zeus’ abuse and control. I also like that Demeter was so sympathetic even when she made choices we might not agree with.
Michał: I wish we’d seen more of Hermes. He worked well as Persephone’s ‘wingman’, you could say.
(Get it? Because he has wings on his feet…) *collective groan*
Mehek: I totally agree, Michał. Hermes was great and I wanted more of him. I am usually not one to wish books were longer, but in this particular case, I just wanted more and more of Persephone/Hades
Gretchen: I would have loved more from them, too, because what we got was beautiful. Diemer has a way with words, and Persephone has a beautiful voice when she talks about her interactions with Hades. Lyrical. One might even say divine. *badum tiss*
Michał: I liked Pallas, as the closest to a mortal perspective we got. She was dead, so not quite mortal anymore, but still. She lived and died as a mortal human.
What didn’t work with the novel?
Jeremiah: Well, this is going to be hard because I kind of adore this book. I’m racking my brain for anything that really put me off or pulled me out of the story. I said this when the book was recommended, I think this book is amazing.
Gretchen: I’m with you on that. I can’t think of anything bad to say about it. I loved every inch of it and devoured it in basically one sitting.
Michał: I’m going to say something surprising, which is that the romance honestly didn’t work all that well for me. Not that it was bad, just… not terribly riveting to read.
Mehek: I can see what you’re saying. You know it’s going to happen, it’s obvious really quickly, so the romance wasn’t built all that much.
Jeremiah: Nope. Riveted. Happy lesbian love stories a rare gem in of themselves but even ignoring that, loved it.
Mehek: I mean, I am in love with this book and want to marry it and have it’s babies, but I do see what Michał is saying.
Gretchen: HA! I second the idea of marrying this book. Yes please. I want to take it with me to bed every night.
Michal: Like I said, it’s not bad, but just as Mehek said, it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion. I found Persephone’s rebellion against the pre-established, seemingly unmoving world order much more compelling. The resolution to that felt too quick, even if I liked how it happened because she did something no one had considered before.
Gretchen: That’s acceptable…I guess 😉 But all kidding aside, that was a compelling part of the book, so I can see why it drew you so strongly.
Jeremiah: Whatever, the love story was awesome. Ya’ll got holes in your hearts.
What Did Work in the Novel?
Gretchen: So clearly that love story was one thing that worked well, at least for most of us 😉 I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to read basically a domestic Hades and Persephone story. Like. They’re precious. Also pretty much the embodiment of that Hades/Persephone ‘hold my flower’ meme. I love it.
Jeremiah: Diemer’s words seem effortless. I’ve read her other work and they all share that same easy flow of language. She has a way of allowing her characters have their day in court. Even Zeus is allowed a little understanding, not forgiveness, but a small bit of empathy. I loved how epic the story felt while still busying itself with the small details of this budding romance.
Gretchen: Her language is lyrical, flowing, and atmospheric. All of her metaphors and imagery flawlessly match the setting. Earth felt lush, dreamy, vibrant. The Underworld dark, mysterious, and somehow vast despite being underground. The scene where we meet Gaia? I can’t even begin to describe how breathtaking it is to read.
Mehek: I just wanted to flip it back to the beginning and start re-reading the second I finished. I had to restrain myself from buying everything else the author has written. I don’t know what we, as a society, did to deserve something so lovely but. It’s so, so lovely.
Gretchen: Seconded. Go read this book. Seriously. It’s everything. Hades gets Persephone a three-headed puppy. When will your OTP ever?
Jeremiah: I have read this book many, many times. Not as many as Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe, but still, a lot.
Michał: Not going to lie, puppy Cerberus was the highlight of this book. But I enjoyed it primarily as a mythic retelling, and rebellion story. We’re shown this natural order of things — Zeus is the king of heaven and none dare oppose him, only appease him. The Underworld is a dreary place of misery. Persephone has no time for either of that.
Gretchen: Everything is amazing, go read it. The end.
Jeremiah: As far as retellings of myths go this ranks up there with Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus. Both in terms of understanding the material and with the verve to play with it. On top of that it’s just lovely people. Come on, the world’s on fire, but we have this book so we might be ok.
Michał: This is the lesbian fairy tale you were looking for. Even if you’re not looking for one, though, this is a damn good mythic retelling and subversion. Written in beautiful language.
Gretchen: I wholeheartedly agree. It takes everything we think we know about Greek mythology and upends just about all of it. The handling of the realm of the dead, the tragedy of the Elysian Fields as a place where soldiers spend the rest of eternity with their misery and trauma was masterful. I especially appreciate that the resolution to that was hope, compassion, and allowing the dead to find a way to move past their sins and find forgiveness and healing. A+. All the awards for that.
Mehek: This book is really wonderful. Read it, treasure it, enjoy it. I wish I had the words to encompass my love for this book but go forth and read it yourself to find out why I’m speechless.