Monday, October 17, 2011

Book Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer
A mere five minutes into The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer and I had forgotten that I was supposed to be critically reviewing it, I was so completely caught up in the story. An enchanting and powerful retelling of the traditional myth of Persephone, this tale casts several key characters as lesbian women and Zeus as heedlessly destructive, selfish and far too a powerful figure overshadowing everyone's lives. It stays very true to the original Greek mythos - beauty and cruelty go hand in hand, as the gods mingle with mortals, each other, and the variety of fantasy creatures that orbit them. And, while adapted to the story, they are all recognisable.

In the original myth (for those who aren't familiar) Persephone was the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest and fertility (basically, an earth mother figure). On day, while she played in a meadow, the ground splits open and a chariot appears, bearing the terrifying figure of Hades, god of the Underworld. He snatches up the beautiful girl and bears her down into his realm. There, whether he rapes her, courts her or ignores her is mostly skipped over, but eventually she eats either three or six pomegranate seeds. Sometimes by mischance, but often because he tricks her.

Unbeknownst to Persephone, her mother in the world above is distraught with grief, and basically laying waste to the world and refusing to allow any tender new growth. The first winter has arrived, and it is terrible. Finally Zeus forces Hades to return Persephone, but because of the seeds she ate while in the Underworld (never eat the food of the fairies... ) she has to return to Hades for three (or six) months out of the year. During this time, Demeter mourns, and winter returns.

In this story, Persephone is raised in her mother's realm, beautiful and happy and sheltered, and only shadowed by her mother's competitiveness, that she would be better than two other daughters and be great in Olympus one day, according to some prophecy. And then she falls in love with a nymph called Charis, and they plan a romantic escape to live together forever - but Zeus casually destroys that dream, and Charis, in a whim of lustful cruelty.

Persephone is left in pain and grief and hatred - and starts to learn how precarious her position is, and how much power Zeus has. She is presented to Olympus, and there is sparked into the first steps of revolution by charming, darting, Hermes - and meets Hades, and falls into her eyes... and caught between Zeus and gentle, tragic Hades, soon she is making her own choices for the first time, fleeing to the Underworld and discovering fear and the first new stirrings of love again. Meanwhile, people keep alluding to prophecies...

Apart from the writing itself, which is easy to read and engaging (not at all simplistic, simply very well done), there is a marvellous mythic Greek quality to everything, from names, to imagery, to the personalities of the players. It feels real.

There are actually very few named characters with a part to play - Hermes and Zeus make brief appearances, as do Charon the boatman, and Haggeus the ghost. Terrified yet loving Demeter is a classic 'abused mother' to Persephone herself, who spends most of her time with Hades and Pallas. Pallas is a ghost in the underworld and a confidante of Hades. She was once Athena's lover, until the goddess killed her by accident, and then took her name in mourning (hence 'Pallas Athena') - this is actually very close to the actual myth - or at least, one of the dozen variations - in which Pallas was a friend, father, consort, nymph, half-sister, friend, enemy - nobody knows, save that Athena killed Pallas and took the name in sorrow.

 This is a fantastic tale of an innocent young woman controlled by those around her, who learns to find love and make her own decisions in life.

You can download the Kindle version of The Dark Wife on Amazon for $3.99, or order the paperback for $12.99 or less.

You can also listen to an audio of the first chapter here.

Sarah Diemer has written severalesbian fantasy and horror books, (including two upcoming titles) and has a website at and a blog called Muse Rising. She is an excellent, lyrical and descriptive writer who follows the 'perfect soulmate' trope, and actually does the research. There will be more reviews of her work.

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