Let me get the climax out of the way first – not very satisfying, but really, I can't amble around verbally until I get to the good part. I cried at the ending. Could be hormones, could be that I was really tired and already emotional. But I think it was the writing- I cried at the end. Y'all, it was that good. It made the pregnant Sarah cry.
This might be the hardest review I wrote because I want to squee all over the place about all the factors I liked. Candy and I work so hard to keep this a fair, balanced, and damn snarky site and I might as well hork up a fluffy bunny for this review because my gosh, I loved this book.
Goddess of Spring is second in P.C. Cast's Goddess series, between Goddess of the Sea, and Goddess of Light, and retells a myth you are likely familiar with, illuminating it in a manner that not only subverts the original meaning but recasts a lot of standard Greek mythology into femno-centric themes.
Lina, or Carolina, is the owner of Pani del Goddess, a Tulsa-based bakery. She's quite an atypical heroine, in that she is older (y'all, she's 43!) and she's survived the end of a marriage that left her caught between a lack of confidence — her husband left her for a younger, more fertile woman — and a regrowth of her own capabilities. She's the sole proprietor of a successful bakery using her grandmother's Italian recipes, and is doing marvelously well until her accountant gives her horrid advice that leaves her deep in debt to the IRS. Facing a great blow to her ego and her bank account, she goes searching for food items to use in an expanded luncheon menu to try to earn back the money she needs and finds an old cookbook in a used book store: The Italian Goddess Cookbook.
Part recipe guide and part spellbook, the cookbook offers several options for Lina's luncheon menu, and she decides to try out a recipe at home, since, as a proper Italian woman, she's got plenty of the core ingredients in her home, including good wine. Gotta love a woman who keeps good wine in her home.
The recipe for Pizza Della Romana, or Pizza by the Meter (nice pun there that only becomes obvious in the following chapters) instructs her to light a candle, say some incantations and verses of gratitude to the Goddess Demeter, and leave an offering of dough sprinkled with wine, which Lina chooses to place outside at the base of a tree in her courtyard.
While she completes the recipe, she begins to feel prickles of sensation gathering around her, and as she places the dough at the base of the tree and makes her personal request of the Goddess as per the instructions, a unique flower blooms suddenly, releasing a beautiful aroma that Lina can't help but sample. As she leans in for one last sniff, she suddenly finds herself sucked into the flower, and emerges in a completely different world, facing a woman on a throne, who tells her she is Demeter, and that Lina's request is granted, if Lina will complete a task for Demeter in return.
Lina is stunned, and, much to my admiration, not at all cowed by the Goddess in front of her. She agrees to the request: she will inhabit the body of Persephone, Demeter's daughter, and descend to the Underworld to lend the presence of a Goddess to Hades' realm. In return, Persephone, Goddess of Spring, will inhabit her body, run the bakery and restore it to financial health, paying off her debt to the IRS in full and tripling profits in six months' time.
So Lina descends to the Underworld, where she is greeted as Persephone and treated accordingly. Her presence causes a great deal of attention among the dead, who are more than eager to have a Goddess among them, paying attention to them, and listening to their needs. Then, Lina meets Hades, who is more than confused at the presence of the Goddess of Spring in his realm, and finds herself attracted to him — not at all part of the bargain of her visit to the Underworld.
Lina's interaction with Hades makes up the most marvelous part of the book. Aside from PC Cast's talent with description and her imaginative rendering of what the Realm of the Dead would look like, her creation of Lina as a mature heroine was a brilliant move. Lina is old enough to appreciate the young Goddess's body she finds herself inhabiting, but also woman enough to have to talk herself out of feeling sorry for her aged self, and the body she will ultimately return to. She battles feelings of self-pity regarding body image several times, but rather than growing monotonous and eliciting a “Get OVER it already” response from yours truly, I found myself cheering Lina on, and thinking, “Well, now, that's a clever way to talk yourself out of the my-butt-is-too-big doldrums.”
Further, Lina is also far from being a naive woman who is clueless about men, and is able to see past Hades' inexperience in talking to women, especially Goddesses, and view what must be beneath the surface of his often brusque and distant behavior. She looks at his creations in the Underworld and rightly realizes that a man without passion would never have been able to create such a place, or decorate it in such a thoughtful yet profoundly beautiful manner. Further, she is not at all repulsed by his connection to the dead, as most of the other immortals are, and she respects his attention to his duties as Lord of the Underworld.
And if I can remove my wrist from my forehead for a moment and recover from my maidenly swoon (snort!), let me just say, oh, my stars, that Hades. Tall, dark, handsome, enigmatic, dedicated, passionate, and convinced that he is flawed because he doesn't view intimacy as a disposable item as the other immortals do. He isn't interested in mere dalliances, because he has witnessed the bond between mated human souls, and covets that love and dedication for himself, even as he knows that no other immortal will likely fall in love, much less fall in love with him.
Ultimately, what makes this book so delicious for me is that everyone, even Persephone and Demeter, comes to appreciate the value of their own lives and the lives of others. Moreover, this is one of those stories based on a theme or myth that I'm already familiar with, and I began to dread how Cast would handle the ending of that myth, with Persephone spending six months in the Underworld, thus creating fall and winter as her mother, who is Goddess of Earth and Harvest, mourns her daughter and sends the earth into temporary death, and then returning to her mother's side for six months of spring and summer. I, of course, should have trusted Cast that a happily ever after was easily wrought by twisting the meaning of the established myth into one that focuses more on the female powers of both Lina and Persephone. At no time does Lina fall back into a powerless state, which would be easy since she's a mortal and she's wandering around in a realm of Gods and Goddesses. She comes to realize her own power and talent, and appreciate the talent — and flaws — of the immortals around her.
The only caveat I have to this book, my copy of which bears a shocking complete lack of marked corners where I signal passages that were jarring or otherwise peculiar for use in my later reviews, was the curious use of product and concept placement. On one hand, the Batman movie franchise is well known enough that using it as a method of describing Hades as a dark, tortured hero is familiar and certainly appropriate. But when an author mentions specific actors — if you find that actor repulsive, does it ruin the book for you? In my personal case, no, but I have to wonder, for example, if I prefer Michael Keaton and you prefer Christian Bale, and the author prefers George Clooney, who you hate, can you enjoy the book without picturing Dr. Doug from ER? Personally, it's no problem for me, but I am always curious about the decision to locate a book within reality, though when the book is a complete and total fantasy, grounding it with familiar names and concepts might be a calculated and wise decision on Cast's part.
However, product placement: this is a pet peeve of mine. At one point Persephone mentions a very specific mid-range bottle of wine by vineyard and name, almost like an advertisement. In my experience, unless you're referring to one of the few singularly great bottles of wine, a Chateau Petrus or Yquem, for example, which is like college tuition in a bottle, few people refer to mid-range wines by their names, unless they're ordering from a menu. Plus, and this is certainly particular to me, Cast mentions a specific type of wine that has an absolutely annoying commercial that I hear ALL the time on the radio, so to read about it made me think of that irritating, self-congratulatory monologue about the benefits of this particular wine.
However, I will be frank: that is the only negative thing I have to say about this book. I loved Lina, I loved me some Hades, and I loved the subversion of an established male-centered myth into a happily ever after ending for two women, and the creation of a mortal woman who learns that even if she's not immortal, she and all other women are certainly possessing of the powers of a Goddess.