Dark Olympus, Book #1
Heat Factor: Look, the King of the Underworld has a certain reputation to maintain
Character Chemistry: Sparring that veers into dominance play, but underneath all that they really come to care for each other
Plot: A sexy Hades / Persephone retelling with some serious anti-Zeus intrigue happening
Overall: Satisfyingly fun and sexy
Let me tell you something about myself. When I was younger, I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology dozens of times. Just the Greek bits, but still. I was really really into mythology. Which makes it somewhat surprising that this is actually the first mythology romance retelling that I’ve ever read (I have read some literary retellings of various myths). Maybe I was worried that it wouldn’t be faithful to the source material?
I shouldn’t have been. First of all, because the source material is already so eclectic that we can’t really say that there is One True Version of any story, and secondly because, well, the Persephone story is rich with possibility. (If you’ve read any other good Persephone retellings, I am all ears!)
Which brings me to Neon Gods, which is Robert’s take on Persephone. Overall, it’s really, really fun, as well as sexy (not as sexy as some of her other stuff). Robert imagines a world where Olympus sits in a liminal place; we’re definitely in a modern world, because we have cell phones, but Olympus itself is surrounded by some sort of (maybe magical?) barrier that distances it from the rest of the world. As in, people can’t physically leave without intervention. The city-state is ruled by The Thirteen, whose titles and roles match thirteen Greek gods.
Demeter, as one might expect, manages the food supply (I guess this needs extra management due to the magical barrier). She and Persephone have a…fraught relationship. When the story opens, Persephone is at a fancy party, where Demeter and Zeus blindside her with an engagement—Zeus is on the market for wifey #3. In a panic, Persephone bolts, and ends up crossing the river Styx, thereby crossing another magical barrier and entering Hades’ domain. And then she and Hades make a sex pact so that Zeus won’t want her anymore, as one does.
Here’s what’s fun about this book. Persephone and Hades have a banter-y grumpy-sunshine dynamic that just really works, both within the framework of the myth retelling and as a way to develop the relationship between the characters. There are all kinds of little treats sprinkled throughout the book for mythology nerds like me, like the time Persephone convinces Hades to adopt a puppy so he won’t be lonely when she leaves, and he ends up getting not one, but rather three black dogs because of course he does. Plus, Hermes and Bacchus make repeat appearances, and some of their interactions with Hades cracked me up.
Here’s what’s sexy about this book. Hades and Persephone have a decent amount of sex, including some sex club exhibitionism. But what’s really great about it is how obviously intentional each scene is in building the layers of the relationship as it develops. This is not voyeurism for the sake of reading about sex, but rather to demonstrate the shifts in how Hades and Persephone perceive each other and themselves.
And here’s my one (minor) quibble. I wanted more world-building. I wanted details about how people become gods/politicians. Three positions are hereditary, but the rest are not—are they elected? Are they chosen somehow? Do people retire or are you a member of the Thirteen until you die? How much of Hermes’ skills are magic, given to her after she got the job, or was she just a master-thief who could break into any building before she was chosen? How does Olympus relate to the rest of the world? I was just intensely curious about the nitty-gritty details of how this world works…but that’s not really the point of the book. Luckily, this is the first in a new series, so I expect that we’ll get a more rounded view of how Olympus works as we get to know more characters.
I, for one, can’t wait.
I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.
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I love me a good reimagining of a classic story (with bonus listicle!)
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