Persephone’s Curse, Book #1
Heat Factor: It’s pretty steamy—kind of like the warmth emanating from the alleyway trash can fires of this dystopian world
Character Chemistry: There’s certainly a “us against the world” dynamic that is immediate and satisfying
Plot: Elin is the only successful escapee from government run insemination labs created to attempt to evade a fatal virus called Persephone’s Curse. Jayden is an escaped soldier who has successfully created a haven for government outcasts in an old school. Together they try to save their sisters and their newfound family while they navigate a relationship in what is (TW) a pretty cruel world where rape has become a way of life.
Overall: I wish I had DNFed this book because I was really upset when I finished reading it.
The setting is a world almost entirely based around victimizing women, so I would advise those who have difficulty reading about rape and assult to skip this review (and book).
Just another heads up before the actual review to clearly post that this book has a plot that heavily involves rape and sexual/physical assault. If this is something you struggle with, I would offer some hugs and urge you to look up how bees sometimes take midday naps in flowers. (I do not mean that flippantly, just as kind of a trigger warning palate cleanser.)
On the flip side, here at the Smut Report we don’t yuck anyone else’s yum—so I’m going to break this down from a fairly neutral standpoint.
This book definitely had some well-done components and a gripping plot/setting. The book is a vivid depiction of a dystopian landscape where a deadly virus has taken over the world (released purposefully to help with population control) and is now killing expectant mothers and babies in mass quantities. The government, in an effort to find a cure, has taken to imprisoning women and girls and running experiments on them. Then, they have soldiers rape the women to test the efficacy of their experiments. Those who have rebelled or refused to fall in line are stripped of identification cards, so they are unable to access medical care or benefits, and either starve to death, fall ill, or are killed off in the streets as an example to everyone else.
So. To sum up, this is a real dark book. Virtually every single woman in the book has been in some way assaulted, and almost every man in the book has either willingly or unwillingly participated in hurting women.
Here’s where the book is actually very well done—the school house, where our main characters have set up a safe haven for survivors and society’s outcasts, is vividly depicted. As soon as Elin is safe and begins to slowly heal from her experiences, they begin to discover the whereabouts of her and Jayden’s sisters and work in stealth and with the help of their underground community to locate and release the women. So although I certainly wouldn’t call it a soothing and comfortable read, it’s GRIPPING. And as I’ve found in other well-written dystopian books, the welcoming warm safe haven provides an encouraging, hopeful balance to the outside world, which is dark, dangerous, and depressing. It was a much-needed antidote to what was happening outside its walls.
I LOVED the conversations Elin and Jayden had about consent and free will and independence. I also loved the way that the women had this shared experience and dealt with it in so many different ways.
And here’s the criticism—I generally try to walk the line between citing trigger warnings and allowing for literary surprises. To be honest, it can be a very difficult line to navigate as a reviewer. In this case, I did want to heavily provide warnings because of both the general content but also how it’s unpacked. In Elin’s case, she has somehow managed to escape the lab without having been raped, and then subsequently managed to survive on the streets without being raped, and makes it to the school house where she’s safe and protected, and as it turns out she’s utterly virginal. I worry about this depiction. Both her sister and Jayden’s sister are not able to escape without having been sexually assaulted, and while I feel like the author makes a great effort to describe the emotional and physical impact of what they’ve been through in a way that is empathetic and visceral, what ends up being implied is that Elin is pure and virginal and gets a happily ever after and the sisters are defiled and end up recovering (or not) with great difficulty and no small amount of wreckage.
I also noticed that despite Elin’s incredible talent and strength with survival, her depiction after her relationship with Jayden commences are a little bit infantilized. For example, she’s able to figure out a way to establish an actual sustainable farm in the courtyard of the school, resolving food scarcity issues for a huge group of people, and when she excitedly describes her progress with Jayden, he coos over how cute she is when she gets excited about her garden. She’s made a monumental contribution for the well-being of the commune, and it really rubbed me wrong that this incredibly strong woman is reduced to something virginal and childlike as soon as she starts things up with a guy. There are more than a few instances along those lines. And look—if this were in any other kind of book, I would just take it as it is and enjoy the perspective—but it’s in a book about the near constant victimization of women, and it really bothered me. And sure, there are also moments where Elin regains her strength (especially by the end of the book), but the person who loves her the most should be building her up—not reducing her to a cute, silly woman who suddenly needs constant protection despite surviving so fiercely on her own for so long.
Overall, I guarantee you there is an audience that will read this with rapt attention and love the way this romance unfolds in such a dire and dark place and with such terrible things going on. That audience is just not me.
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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