Introduction: This is yet another novel I couldn’t finish though I read enough of it that I felt I could do a proper review. But first a little backstory: I have an idea to recreate the myth of Persephone and Hades (with differently-named characters), so I looked for other novels tackling the same subject to see how it could be done and what to avoid to risk making comparisons. Hence I landed upon Persephone by Stephannie Beman. But I’m sorry to say the only thing Persephone inspired me to do was (quite literally) throw it in the trash.
The Story: If you’re familiar with the myth of Persephone and Hades, then this novel’s plot will be no surprise. The only difference is that we see a full pantheon of gods and goddesses and all of their petty squabbles and sordid affairs. Naturally at the center of it all is Persephone, daughter of Demeter. But when Hades, a hardened warrior and lord of the Underworld, comes on the scene, he’s smitten by Persephone and seeks to make her his wife and queen. Persephone has feelings for him, too, but can’t reconcile abandoning her mother and the world she’s always known. This conflict drives the bulk of the novel but if you know the rest of the myth’s story, you have all the spoilers you need.
My Take: I was prepared to like Persephone as I have yet to find a myth-retelling (other than C.S. Lewis’ ‘Til We Have Faces) that was actually any good. But Persephone faltered for me by having too many characters, ill-fitting writing, and a great deal of graphic sexual content that, to me, was like finding a big wad of gum stuck on the bottom of a pair of Louboutins. Or sneakers, in this case, because this novel is no where near the literary equivalent of a Louboutin.
Regarding characters, while Persephone manages not to become an ensemble piece, it comes fairly close. Having a large cast isn’t bad or wrong but, personally, I have a hard time trying to keep track of all of the players. This novel, while focused to a degree, does go off track a few times, and the various gods and goddesses fail to retain any unique personalities that make them stand out. The only character I thought was fairly interesting was Hades as he evokes sympathy without becoming pathetic. Thus, the novel isn’t a total bust in the character department though its cast list could have been reduced, especially considering the novel’s overall size.
[Side note: I kept envisioning Pitch from The Guardians of Childhood as Hades even though the two characters look nothing alike. I’d definitely go with Pitch and become his dark queen, especially if he had his sexy Jude Law voice. Just sayin’. 😉 Okay, back to the novel.]
My bigger complaint with Persephone was the sex scenes. I’m not against sexual content in books but it has to make sense within the confines of the story, not be used just to take up space, or be graphic (as in making specific anatomical references). If you have to start naming body parts, you’ve gone too far for me. Granted, the Persephone-Hades tale is one of seduction and ultimate abduction, so it’s not as if the scenes didn’t fit. But when they appeared at greater frequency, I felt like they were being added to take up room on the page or within the scene. Likewise, while I’m sure there are far more descriptive works out there, this novel crossed the line for me in terms of detail. These scenes could have been introduced and then cut away from and it would have worked just fine.
Writing Remarks: From a writing standpoint, Persephone reads like a contemporary novel but with mythological beings in non-contemporary settings. It’s not like we have Zeus, Hades, or anyone else strutting around using modern slang or smartphones, but perhaps an older, more archaic voice would have better suited the novel. Likewise, all of the characters sounded alike to me and, based on dialogue alone, I couldn’t tell who was talking in any extended exchanges. I sensed this novel needed a little more work in its overall use of description (and less time bothering with the nitty-gritty of Persephone and Hades’ sex lives) and character development. Overall, it had potential beneath the surface but never truly got there.
Content Breakdown: Much to my dismay (as I discovered too late), Persephone is erotic fiction, which I never read. (Also, judging by other titles Beman has written, my guess is she is an erotica author, which I wished I knew before I buying this book.) I’m not going to judge folks who read erotica but I’m also not ashamed to say that it’s not my cup of tea:
Language – Seemingly none but there may have been some profanities I overlooked.
Violence – None, based on what I read. Hades is depicted as a grizzled, seasoned warrior but we’re not really shown any graphic battle scenes.
Sexual Material – Since this is erotica, sexual content takes enter stage. Granted it’s not on every page nor in every chapter, but Persephone and Hades’ trysts are described in detail, including specific body parts and use of anatomical slang (which seemed oddly out of place).
Thematic Content – True love demands loyalty (though the fact Hades abducts Persephone puts this concept into check to some degree: does Persephone truly love him or does she feel compelled to love him or else?).
Recommended Reading Levels: In my opinion, I believe Persephone stacks up this way (note that just because a book isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children –Not recommended. This novel is inappropriate for children based on its content.
Independent Readers – Not recommended. This novel is inappropriate for older children based on its content.
Young Adults – Not recommended. This novel is inappropriate for teens due to its content. Likewise, some teens may confuse Hades’ abduction of Persephone as a sign that he “loves” her. Granted, I doubt any teen would try to actually do the same thing, but it might plant ideas that possessing another person equates loving them, which isn’t the case.
Adults – Not recommended. Fans of erotica would probably find this novel tame but I wouldn’t know since I’m not well-versed in that genre and don’t care to be. To be honest, Persephone just isn’t that engaging or interesting, sexual content aside, and there are probably better-written myth-based stories out there.
The Run-Down: I was willing to give Persephone a try because I love finding new authors. But once I kept running into graphic sex scenes, I had to stop. I fail to see the edifying or entertaining intent in them and, sadly, I didn’t even feel the novel deserved a physical place on my shelf. The audience for this story will be a select few who are into erotica and enjoy mythology; but for those of us who just like the myth part of the equation, it simply doesn’t satisfy.