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Book Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

Saturday, September 24, 2016 - 19:55

What if Persephone had been an eager bride...and Hades was a woman?

That's the basic premise of this mythic re-telling of the "abduction" of Persephone as a same-sex romance. Persephone flees Olympus to escape Zeus's tyranny and sexual advances (and starting with a major grudge against him for having raped her childhood crush, one of Demeter's nymphs, and turned her into a bush). A passing encounter with the aloof, brooding, and therefore enticing Hades, Queen of Death at Persephone's Olympian coming-out makes her fixate on Hades as her best refuge.

The premise of this story was intriguing and enticing--as enticing as that first encounter with Hades. But the story didn't live up to my hopes for it. The overall plot was meandering and episodic, like a series of isolated D&D encounters with various persons, places, and creatures of the underworld. (In fact, it made me wonder whether it had originally been written as a serial without a fixed outline.) All of the adversaries, difficulties, and crises seem to be overcome too easily (though with a fair amount of angst in the build-up) with nothing more than earnest goodwill, empathy, and a bit of belated clear communication. The final climax, when Zeus has forced Demeter into blackmailing Persephone into returning from the underworld, is so quickly and easily resolved (with un-foreshadowed powers) that it felt like a cheat.

Persephone's romantic desire for Hades never quite escapes the sense of being a schoolgirl crush, with large quantities of gushing devotion, sighing, and longing glances that remain unconsummated for the majority of the story for no clearly articulated reason, other than to draw out what is meant to be the erotic tension. The problem is, while I kept getting told (over and over, at repetitive length) about how much Persephone loved Hades (and, eventually, how much Hades loved her back), I never really felt it.

I encountered this story in audio format through the podcast The Way of the Buffalo. It's hard to tell how much the format affected my reception of the story. The narrator tended to emphasize the "breathless, gushy" tone of the text, which may have fixed that aspect more firmly in my mind. On the other hand, I suspect if I'd been reading, I would have done a lot of skimming from around the halfway point.

I really wanted to like this story a lot more than I did.