Three thousand years ago, a god told a lie. Now, only a goddess can tell the truth. Persephone has everything a daughter of Zeus could want–except for freedom. She lives on the green earth with her mother, Demeter, growing up beneath the ever-watchful eyes of the gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus. But when Persephone meets the enigmatic Hades, she experiences something new: choice. Zeus calls Hades “lord” of the dead as a joke. In truth, Hades is the goddess of the underworld, and no friend of Zeus. She offers Persephone sanctuary in her land of the dead, so the young goddess may escape her Olympian destiny. But Persephone finds more than freedom in the underworld. She finds love, and herself.
The Dark Wife is a passionate retelling, with delicious details from a forbidding old story made into something new and celebratory. There are a lot of ladies who are interested in other ladies here and I love it. Several goddesses and mortals are queer, and honestly I’d probably headcanon Hermes as being aro/ace.
I love the detail here – the Greek stories are often retold in the context of contemporary or real-world, but this is a commitment to the world of the gods and goddesses, a real examination of the stories we all know. Zeus’ ‘extra-marital activities’ are actually taken seriously in a way I’ve never read before, and for that I would certainly call this a feminist retelling. There’s an examination of the complicated politics of a group that know they’re going to live forever, and have to tread very carefully. It’s a dangerous combination of leisure and excess, and absolute power, and it’s at this point, in Sarah’s retelling, that resentments bubble beyond containment.
But when the actual revolution comes, it falls flat. The book rushes through the final confrontation with such a need to get to the end, to see Persephone and Hades happy and safe, that there’s no real time to feel the conflict. Hermes urges Persephone to ‘rebel’, but beyond her insistence on refusing Zeus, which does involve literally fighting him off, the grand-sounding ‘Immortal’s War’ swishes past in a sentence. Then we hear of a ‘deal’ that was made – the deal from the original story, where Persephone must stay with Hades for six months and on Earth for the rest of the year – but without Zeus to enforce such a rule, it’s unclear why the deal was struck, and with who.
The love story in The Dark Wife is tender and lovely, but the plot favours a happy ending at the cost of a satisfying conclusion to the fate of the immortals of Olympus. It’s like a prequel to a war, with the war over in a sentence and a lot of unanswered questions left behind.