Book Review

The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

B+

Title: The Dark Wife
Author: Sarah Diemer
Publication Info: Sarah Diemer 2011
ISBN: 978-1461179931
Genre: Young Adult

The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

The Dark Wife was recommended in the thread of f/f romance recommendations, and when I read the summary, I was really curious.

Then I started reading the book and before I knew it, I was more than a third of the way into the book, it was nearly midnight, and my brain had no idea where the past two and a half hours had  gone. This book swallows you whole. Be wary of picking it up if you only have a few minutes to read. The story moves so fast and the prose is so attentiongrabby that you'll keep going and you'll miss whatever it was you had to do. In my case, it was falling asleep. I woke up early the next morning to finish the book, because I had to find out what happened. I was exhausted, but I didn't want to stop reading. This book will sneak up on you, steal your loose change and run away with your afternoon if you let it. 

The Dark Wife is Sarah Diemer's lesbian retelling of the Persephone myth. It is tagged as “YA” in many places, including the author's website, and there are things about it, such as the tone and style of the story telling – it is from Persephone's first-person point of view, that cause me to agree with the YA tag. But I also think it would appeal to those who like YA romance, or who are curious about mythological retellings or lesbian romances.

Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, and she lives a sheltered and very happy life on earth, far from Olympus. Persephone falls in love with a female wood nymph, but when the nymph becomes a victim of Zeus' callous sexual appetite, Persephone's idyllic, protected life is destroyed. She has also become the focus of the unfortunate attention of Zeus when she is presented to the court on Olympus, and feels as if she has no choice but to submit to a god she hates.

Then she meets Hades, who surprises Persephone by speaking aloud the truth about Zeus, and also by not being a dude:

“Well,” she sighed, “so many of the gods’ stories, histories, are exaggerations, revisions of the truth. So many… And Zeus is at the center of it all. He has convinced the mortals that he is a kind and just god. Granted, he has done…some good in the world, but he is too selfish to truly care for anyone but himself.”

She sighed again, cast her eyes upward. “He spreads lies, Persephone, to the people of earth. Since the beginning, he’s spread lies me. He whispers in their ears, invisibly, so that they don’t even know where the knowledge came from. Because of him, the mortals believe me a cold, ruthless, hardened…man.”

Persephone is captivated by Hades, and accepts Hades' invitation to journey to the underworld to escape from Zeus. The underworld is fascinating and horrifying to Persephone. There is no sunlight, and there are creatures who scare the crap out of her, but there are also new friends, and Hades herself, who Persephone is increasingly attracted to and fascinated by. Even though Hades' world is the antithesis of Persephone's world on Earth, she doesn't want to leave. 

The themes of the book, of feeling trapped in others' expectations, and of being unable or unwilling to ask for what you want most, were woven into the story in multiple ways, such as Persephone's relationship with Hades, with Zeus and with her mother, and Hades' relationship with Persephone, and with the souls who inhabit the world of the dead, and the Elysian Fields. Sometimes, the solutions to the various problems seemed to come so easily – but, as I noted in my copy of the book, these are gods and goddesses. They can solve problems that easily, but only if the problems are brought to their attention directly. They can't fix what they don't know about.

The only problem that can't be solved so easily is Zeus, who is intent on having Persephone against her will. Her mother can't protect her, and while Hades offers a captivating sanctuary that Persephone doesn't wish to leave, Hades can only offer a temporary hiding place that can't remain safe forever. Persephone has to face down what she most fears. 

I loved watching Persephone figure out the limits and reach of her own power, especially the ways in which she learns how her actions affect others for the better. Casting Hades as a woman, a woman whom Zeus has tricked and lied about for thousands of years, is the focal point of a creative inversion of much of the mythologies surrounding Zeus, and the role of women on Olympus.

Persephone's perspective contains moments of wisdom and appreciation. She's hurt, scared, grieving, and alone, and she's in the most amazing place she's ever been, far away from what she thought was the safety of earth and her mother's home. When she learns to move past her own fear and grief, even for just a minute or two, she becomes a memorable heroine who recognizes the value of happiness amid so much fear and grief. The world of the dead isn't a joyful place, but Persephone finds a bit of it there.

This book moves so fast, I was tempted to gulp it down, and I made myself go back and read certain scenes, and specific chapters, so I could appreciate them again. Characters like Zeus seem familiar and scary, representing themselves, and to some extent representing larger groups of people as well. For example, this scene gave me chills:

“You see, I am king,” he said, “and kings do as they please. If you try to stop me, if you will not let me have my way […] then I will have to do…things. So sit still and play nice.” And he came for me.

 

Diemer's use of the Persephone myth and her many subversions and alterations of that myth captured that terrifyingly familiar realization that suddenly one is not safe, that there is no one who can offer protection. Persephone's story also echoed the feeling I have sometimes that everyone in power must be mad, or cowardly, or both, and there's nothing to be done about it.

I don't think the first-person narration was flawless, however. There were times when, as I said, the solutions come so easily to the characters, almost too easily. Some problems that built over several chapters were solved in a paragraph or less, and it seemed anticlimactic. Persephone as a narrator is also inconsistent at times. Sometimes she seems very old and wise – when she recognizes her position and power as a goddess, for example  – and at other times very young, such as when she goes on and on and on about Hades, the things that scare her, the things she likes, the things she worries about. Persephone has the overemotional self-obsession of a teenager crossed with the experience and power of being a goddess who is the daughter of the goddess of the earth, and sometimes the crossing of those two can be jarring.

But Persephone's fear and feelings of powerlessness drive the story's pace, but are countered by the joy and amazement at her relationship with Hades, and her realization of what is right and joyous in her life. Persephone has to change her impressions of everything: her mother, Zeus, the other gods and goddesses, and of her own place in their world, and the story delivers all of those “coming of age” changes in a book I honestly could not put down.


The Dark Wife is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Patricia Eimer says:

    Hades is a woman? Wow. That was a change I don’t think I saw coming. This sounds really good.

  2. 2
    Alex McLeod says:

    I always rather liked Hades, mythologically. “He” was the one member of the Greek pantheon who could take something up and stick with it. Hated his job, that it required his personal presence to make run, but also still did it anyway, regardless. Great sense of duty there.

    And Zeus? Major dickhead whose response to this is “Might makes right”. See from Book 8 of the Iliad, with the Olympians make a complaint on this:

    “Come, try me, immortals, so all of you can learn.
    Hang a great golden cable down from the heavens
    lay hold of it, all you gods, all goddesses too:
    you can never drag me down from sky to earth,
    not Zeus, the highest, mightiest king of kings,
    not even if you worked yourselves to death.
    But whenever I’d set my mind to drag you up,
    in deadly earnest, I’d hoist you all with ease,
    you and the earth, you and the sea, all together,
    then loop that golden cable round a horn of Olympus,
    bind it fast and leave the whole world dangling in mid-air—
    that is how far I tower over the gods, I tower over men. “

  3. 3
    Nathalia says:

    Though I am not much into lesbian romance novels, I love retelling of mythologies and I always thought the Hades/Persephone Story made for a great (season-changing) romance, so maybe I will give this a try. I wonder if there ever was a retelling of the story where Hades is male?

  4. 4
    Alpha Lyra says:

    I have never tried a f/f pairing. Not sure it is my cup of tea, but I love Greek mythology, and I will give this one a try.

  5. 5
    StarOpal says:

    Nathalia> P.C. Cast’s Goddess of Spring, the second book in the Goddess Summoning series, is a take on Persephone and Hades. And it can totally be read on its own if that’s the only myth you’re interested in. There’s a review for it somewhere on Smart Bitches…. Found it:
    http://smartbitchestrashybooks…
    The cover changed (unfortunately) when it was re-released, but don’t let it scare you off, really good read.

    If anyone else has any more Persephone/Hades book recommendations, I too would be interested.

  6. 6

    I have this on my “maybe” list. I’ve never read any f/f and I really want to try one at some point. Thanks for the review!

  7. 7
    Arresi says:

    There’s actually a small selection of Hades/Persephone fanfiction on archiveofourown.org – the review reminded me a bit of this one. http://archiveofourown.org/wor…

  8. 8
    Ilona says:

    Read it, good book.
    Loved the twist on the original myth. Hades and Persephone were always my favorite gods and reading about them as two girls, still totally awesome, and it fitted with the original mythology nicely.
    Also all the other gods were done well especially Athena, and Zeus was always a dick even in the original mythology. It’s nice to see Hades getting the cred he deserves, poor guy/girl always was mistreated and wrongly portrayed, plus he was always the one god that was always said to love his wife.

  9. 9
    April says:

    Great review. I need to get around to Dark Wife ASAP. (I have it checked out since I ordered a copy for my library’s YA collection, but when it arrived, I ended up getting distracted by Angelfall)

  10. 10
    Pria says:

    Hot as Hades by Alisha Rai is short but good. Link here: http://www.amazon.com/Hot-as-H…

  11. 11
    Cathy Pegau says:

    I’ve read this and thoroughly enjoyed it. Diemer writes beautifully and gives Hades a surprisingly sweet personality. And yeah, Zeus is still an ass : )

    Glad to see more f/f on SB!

  12. 12
    SB Sarah says:

    Yes – I think that might be my favorite of the Cast mythology books. I loved that one and cried at the end.

  13. 13

    Wow, I really need to read this soon – it’s been on my TBR forever, and it just seems like such an awesomesauce, professional self-published book.

    As for those looking for Hades/Persephone retellings – I don’t know of many in romance, but Young Adult has them out the WAZOO.  Here’s the few I can recall right now:

    The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

    Everneath by Brodi Ashton

    Abandon by Meg Cabot

    Radiant Darkness by Emily Wing Smith

    I swear there are more…it’s probably the most retold Greek myth in Young Adult literature, and the romance is almost always the main focus. 

  14. 14
    Cara says:

    Ooh, I wonder, based on the pieces I see here, if Diemer’s take on Hades as a goddess was influenced at all by Mesopotamian mythology, in which the goddess Ereshkigal is the great goddess of the Under/Netherworld? Ereshkigal is fantastic, more people should know about her.

    On a more prosaic note, I am SO reading this book.

  15. 15
    Heather says:

    SB Sarah, you are spot on with this review. I was awake half the night reading this—couldn’t go to sleep until I finished it. I recall reading another version of the Persephone/Hades story a few years ago, and I keep thinking that it was called “The Goddess Tales”, but can’t find anything on it (of course).

    I love historical fiction and retellings of Greek myths/history. Probably why I love Mary Renault so much, and adored “The Song of Achilles”. I must recommend “Psyche In A Dress” by Francesca Lia Block. It’s a retelling of the story of Psyche and Cupid.

  16. 16
    Heather says:

    Speaking of that Hades/Persephone retelling I mentioned, I specifically recall Persephone calling Hades by the name Dis. Don’t know if that will ring a bell for anyone else here….

    I also love that “The Dark Wife” wasn’t categorized as “Adult” simply because the lovers are two women.

  17. 17
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I love the Persephone and Hades myth; it’s one of my favorites. I don’t want to know what that says about my twisted psyche. I prefer to imagine that Persephone was complicit, so this book sounds lovely. And, as you know, I’m always on the lookout for good f/f romance. This one is definitely going in my TBR pile, but I probably won’t touch it until the term is over (booooo! obligations).

  18. 18
    Rebecca says:

    The Graphic Myths and Legends series has a graphic novel version called “Demeter and Persephone: Spring Held Hostage” by Justine and Ron Fontes, illustrated by Steve Kurth, which also focuses on the romance between Persephone and Hades.  I think the appeal of the story (aside from that they’re the only deities in Greek mythology to remain faithful to their partners) is precisely the idea that committing to a marriage partner MEANS sometimes permanently pissing off/giving up a parent who also loves you.  And because these are immortals, you know that it’s not the Romeo and Juliet-type adolescent temper tantrum, that will burn itself out.  Persephone actually has to work out a 6 month compromise.  The thing of separating from one’s mother is probably also what makes it such an attractive theme for adolescents too.  (I remember writing a sequel called “Winter’s Lady” in high school, where Hades presents Persephone with a necklace made of garnets like pomegranate seeds for their thousandth anniversary.  I thought the whole lord of Dis and gems of the underworld thing ought to mean that Persephone got some nice jewelry.)

  19. 19
    Laylapalooza says:

    I love f/f romances, and my girlfriend gave this one to me, but I just couldn’t get through it. Maybe I should give it another try? I was really irritated by the narration – the style seemed really forced, to me, and I found it difficult to tolerate the inconsistencies in the narrative voice that you mentioned.

    Buuuuut it also seems like I’m the only lesbian who doesn’t like this book – a bunch of folks seem to love it.

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