- Greek mythology, retelling, Hades & Persephone, erotic fiction, fiction,
- manifesting power, pantheon, Underworld, bargains and fate, love vs infatuation
“No one prays to the God of the Dead, my lady, and when they do, it is too late.”
Where to begin? Here lies the story that started it all for me. As a self-proclaimed fan of Greek mythology, some of my earliest memories are curling up next to my mother, eyes wide, refusing to sleep as she read and reread De’Aulaire’s Greek Myths to me. Like all great moments that lead to a nostalgic ascension, finding the book in her collection decades later with the chariot blazing in a burst of radiant sunlight and muses and nymphs dancing across the cover: sepia tones and black. There have been few books that elicited that amount of joy upon rediscovery. (I absconded with it, back to my personal bookshelf at home, and spent many night reading it with my own children much the same way.)
As I got a little older, to my surprise, that my friends did not share the same affinity for mythology as I had, nor did they know much about Greek mythology. The few times it ever came up brought me to the realization that the dirty bits that were glossed over as a kid, were pretty weird. Who knew? At the time I shrugged most of it off as just being Zeus (because let’s be honest, it’s almost Always Zeus).
The groundwork had been laid long ago. I hadn’t ever allowed myself to read “smutty or spicy” novels before. Had never indulged in the “enemies to lovers” trope in that sense. The closest I had ever gotten was reading the Vampire Chronicles in middle school- my mom was always blatantly forthcoming about sex. She also understood that I was reading a near college level pretty early on, and never placed limitations on my book choices. So each day in 6th or 7th grade I showed up to school reading my paperback anthology of Anne Rice’s debut series much to the chagrin of the librarian and a few teachers. Despite that, I never delved into erotica assuming that it was sex at the expense of the plot.
Then along came a book recommendation for this Hades and Persephone series. I scoffed, I balked, I snubbed the erotic overtones. But when I read over the a few reviews and the summary, the story intrigued me. I knew the controversy of the mythos: abduction (and let’s hope she was a young maiden in title alone), or the alternative theory that it was a brazen and independent decision to escape a different sort of captivity. But the Touch of Darkness series places the events in present day, well after the gods have lifted the veil on their existence to the world. All except Persephone who is hidden away by her protective and narcissistic mother.
She has been living the last few years as a college student under the promise to never interact with the other gods (who are oblivious to her existence). But Fate would have it that she would unknowingly enter into a bargain with the Lord of the underworld himself, staking her mortal existence against her inability to invoke her own power of creation.
The plot was engaging and St. Claire does well to allow her characters to dance around each other, building tension with each misstep. There is attraction, there is sex, there is aggression. But not every interaction does not lead to burying their feelings in an embrace. I found Persephone to be understandably naïve, but as a character she is written in such a way that sometimes her choices are cringey or purely emotional. She is a woman who has never been loved, and so she struggles to understand her own actions and impulses when she loves others.
Hades is more intriguing as he is emotionally isolated and his character is developed through his actions with others rather than dialogue. While Persephone is attempting to salvage the life she was allowed to make, Hades splits his time between managing the Underworld and goading Persephone’s power. We all know ultimately how this song and dance will end, but St. Claire has set this tower up to fall in a slightly different set of circumstances that are engaging for the reader.
As with stories such as these, the focus is on the relationships between characters and how the events surrounding them affect their ability for empathy or understanding. The secondary characters’ roles are to support and filter the two main character’s perspectives in order to keep them grounded. Along the way you will meet the ever-flamboyant Hermes, the enchanting Hecate, petulant Minthe, and entitled Adonis. It is an inventive iteration of an ancient tale, with a boldly spicy flavor.