Desert Isle Keeper
I’ve always been a fan of fantasy romances, and so Neon Gods easily caught my eye as a mix of fantasy, Greek mythology, and erotica. While it took me a little while to orient myself in the author’s world, overall this book proved to be a promising start to this new series by Katee Robert.
In the modern city of Olympus, the Upper City and Lower City are separated by the river Styx, and ruled by the Thirteen. The Thirteen are titles representing major Greek gods and goddesses (Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, etc.) and can be either inherited or elected titles. Demeter, for example, is an elected title whose role involves overseeing the agricultural resources of the city. Persephone is one of the daughters of the current Demeter, and she longs for the day that she will come into her inheritance and be able to leave Olympus for the wider world. Persephone has no interest in the politics and mind games of the Thirteen, but is abruptly dragged into them by her mother when Demeter announces Persephone’s surprise engagement to Zeus.
In possession of a heritage title and the de-facto leader of the Thirteen, Zeus is about sixty and rumored to have murdered his past few wives. While Persephone is fairly certain her mother has some scheme in place to keep her from being married to a monster, she isn’t sure how long it will take to play out. More than that, Persephone is already uncomfortable with the lecherous looks Zeus sends her way, and has no interest in sticking around for more of them. When she steps outside for air minutes after the engagement is announced at a party, panic takes hold and Persephone runs away, ultimately finding herself crossing into the Lower City and a world she never imagined.
No one familiar with the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone will be surprised by the next turn of the story. While in the Upper City, Hades is rumored to be dead, in truth he quietly rules the Lower City, waiting for the right moment to take revenge on Zeus – who killed his parents when Hades was a child. While the Thirteen and other members of their inner circle know of his existence, it’s not until Persephone crosses the river and stumbles straight into his arms that she herself realizes Hades is more than a myth.
While Hades offers Persephone shelter out of general concern and with no further expectations, the daughter of Demeter has spent enough time around the politics of the Thirteen not to take kindness for granted. Deciding that her safest option is to remain in the Lower City for the next few months until she can leave Olympus altogether, Persephone offers Hades a bargain. In return for providing her with a safe harbor, she will be with him publicly (in all senses) to help him get back at Zeus. They both know nothing will rile Zeus more than his supposedly innocent fiancée engaged in a public affair with Hades.
The more time I spend thinking about this book, the more impressed I am with the way the author handles this piece of the plot. While central to the story, bargaining sexual favors can be a very uncomfortable topic if one party feels as though they’ve been forced into it. Luckily, after she first introduces the idea, Hades makes it clear that Persephone’s welcome in his home is not contingent on anything, and she in turn makes it clear that she genuinely desires Hades. What starts as a bargain becomes a mutual decision to enjoy a fling during Persephone’s last months in the city, with the added benefit of pissing off Zeus.
If you’re a fan of Robert’s, it should come as no surprise to hear that the sex is off the charts hot. Public sex is something Hades enjoys – he even has a dedicated room of his house to host orgies – and it’s central to the couple’s plan to embarrass Zeus and enjoy themselves. However, Persephone has never actually acted on her exhibitionist fantasies, so Hades takes his time easing her into the experience.
This care for Persephone’s needs, and the development of their relationship separately in private, is a perfect balance to the constant focus on public perception. In some ways, the awareness of what is done publicly versus privately makes Hades’ growing love for Persephone (and vice versa) even more obvious. When he shows her his favorite hidden parts of the Lower City, it’s not about anyone but them.
My only complaint about this book, and it’s a very small one, is that I was a little confused by the worldbuilding at the beginning. Despite the emphasis on Greek mythology and the mystical barrier between the two parts of the city, most people have phones and don’t appear to have god-like powers. But while my questions about the design of the world might linger, I have no unanswered questions about Hades and Persephone. Their story here is a sexy, modern version of the Greek legend, and definitely deserves a read.