Persephone and Hades are the O.G.s of the Beauty and the Beast archetype, which is one of my favorites, so I’m always game for a retelling. But if this particular Persephone story disappeared to the Underworld, I wouldn’t really miss it.
Olympus, in this version, appears to be an East Coast city-state in an alternate reality present. It’s ruled by the Thirteen, ordinary humans (I think?) who take on the titles of legendary Greek gods which align to their role, some more clearly than others. Ares, for instance, maintains the city guard, while Demeter manages transport and food supplies. Of these roles, three are heritable “legacy roles”: Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Zeus seems to be the executive of the upper city, and Hades rules the lower city, the district on the other side of the River Styx. I don’t know exactly what their jobs entail because we never see either of them at work. Also, there seems to be some kind of magical interference on crossing between the city zones, which is the only mythical/paranormal element in the book. As you can see, this is a cool premise. But while typically, alternate reality settings suffer from infodumps, this one suffers from being too vague. I think I could have really liked the book if the author had given more.
Zeus and Demeter arrange for Persephone to marry Zeus and become the new Hera (it is unclear what this role involves besides boinking Zeus), which is unappealing to Persephone because a) Zeus is a violent, self-serving tyrant and b) the previous three Heras died suspiciously. Fleeing the match, Persephone ends up in Hades’ territory in the Lower City, where she devises a plan: hold Zeus at bay for three months, inherit her trust fund, and flee Olympus. The best way to do this, apparently, is to have public sex with Hades, which she assumes will cause Zeus to lose interest in her.
For someone with so much experience in erotic romance, Robert fumbles the pacing here. It would have been more impactful for Hades and Persephone to decide to fake a relationship, and then, when Zeus didn’t react to that provocation, to gradually become more intimate and more public. Instead, she has them go at it in Hades’s special BDSM party room (of course Hades has a special BDSM party room) immediately. Instead of the conflict of ‘how far will I go with this stranger, who is becoming gradually less strange, in pursuit of my freedom?’, we have the not-really-a-conflict of ‘I already did this guy reverse-cowgirl on his throne in the middle of a party, but we didn’t do it on the STAGE yet, because that makes me nervous. Can I get brave enough?’ Gosh. I’m on tenterhooks.
As you’ve probably picked up, the setting needs more work. It’s not clear if this story is supernatural or not, what exactly the jobs are, or how Olympus fits into what seems to be our regular world (Persephone declares a plan to go to Berkeley for a PhD, which is extremely jarring). The characterizations of Persephone and Hades are also flawed. For both, we are told that they are widely known in one way (Persephone as sunny and biddable, Hades as a terrifying ‘bogeyman’), but we only ever see them in scenes acting out of character. Authors, you have to accept that the characters you show us ARE the characters. It doesn’t matter how much you tell us they were different before, and that they are only their true selves with each other. We only know the people we see now. I did, in fact, like them, especially Hades’ characterization as a benevolent mafia don, and I thought he and Persephone were good for each other. But the duality wasn’t there.
I enjoyed reading this book until I realized it wasn’t going to resolve or develop so many of the things I wanted to know more about. While what we have isn’t bad, it just doesn’t live up to its potential.