The Dark Wife is a phenomenal story that not only retells one of my favorite Greek myths, but also brings a new light and life to it – highlighting it as a clever and imaginative love story.
What we think we know about the Greek gods and goddesses, have been full of partial lies – told by an ego obsessed god with a cruel sense of humor and vengeance. The story about Persephone’s kidnapping and descent into the Underworld is a tale about force and manipulation. But what if the truth was different? From the first time Persephone met Hades, she was entranced. As the daughter of Zeus, you would think life would be easy. But it’s everything but, as Persephone grows up to learn of Zeus’ cruelty and jokes. One of these is calling Hades the ‘lord’ of the dead, except Hades is actually the goddess of the dead. As a way to escape her destiny on Mount Olympus, Hades offers Persephone a sanctuary in the Underworld and there she finds not only love, but also the strength within herself.
This retelling absolutely blew my mind. First of all, a lesbian Persephone and Hades relationship? That was already revolutionary enough, but Diemer integrates all of these other aspects of Greek mythology into the story: Charon, the origins of Zeus, and even the Elysian fields. As a retelling, there is a true art form in manipulating the story line to fit into your ideas, and to incorporate other elements and expectations. Diemer enchants us and takes us into the Underworld itself, painting it in color and light. The world building in this novel exceeded my expectations in its depth and detail. It is completely immersive and this makes it a true joy to be wrapped up into this love story.
That is what lies at the heart of it, a love story between Hades and Persephone, but also of Persephone herself. The love between them is charming. It is slow burning and supportive. But even more so, it is built upon Persephone learning and coming into herself. She learns to stand on her own two feet, to transform the feelings of injustice into action, and to learn who she is on her own without her mother or even Zeus. So while the love story itself is touching to read, and also amazing because there are some scenes of female passion that celebrate f/f love, it is also meaningful.
Persephone has to come into her own, to find herself, before she can really love another person or goddess. She chooses to go into the Underworld and this one action sets up a book worth of soul-searching, where she must figure out exactly what her role is. She makes mistakes and is overwhelmed, but she is resilient and strong. Scarred by a previous love lost, Persephone has to be willing to let love in, to trust another person, and to trust her own ability to persevere. As a character, Persephone is extremely compelling: motivated not only by revenge but a desire for justice, and at the same time compassionate and caring.
Because of this, the plot unfolds slowly and at the end the resolution is fantastic. But you need to be willing to walk along with Persephone on her journey. It isn’t about action or revenge, but instead about retrospection and the deeply universal desire we have for choice. Besides that theme, there is also a great exploration of the nature of belief, especially in the Underworld, where we need to believe in ourselves, our possibilities, and our ability to have a choice. Additionally, there is an intriguing discussion about the opinions we have on death and love as those who are mortal versus those who are immortal. Does being immortal mean we take these things for granted? Feel less? In a world of mortality, do we hold onto things more dearly knowing they can be taken away?
While this book starts off with a myth that is more well-known, it takes off on a rocket of colors, differentiating itself from the myth and bringing more depth into the world of Greek mythology. At the heart of this story is also a subtle reminder that history only portrays one side of the story, and that there should be lingering questions we have over the accuracy and objectivity of it. This is truly Persephone’s story in a way that is indicative of the struggle for independence, agency, and a future of possibility. It tells the story of many of us, many women, who struggle against the patriarchy choke hold to bow down to the ‘history books’ view, to feel trapped and powerless.
Make sure to check out The Dark Wife on Goodreads.