In Radiant Darkness, Portlander Emily Whitman puts a new twist on the Persephone myth. Persephone, the daughter of goddess Demeter, is taken by Hades, Lord of the Dead, to be his queen. The myth says she was kidnapped, but in Whitman’s version, Persephone is eager to escape her overbearing mother (“Mrs. Black-soil-springs from my footsteps”) who insists that she remain a child.
“Here’s the problem with immortality. Every day is exactly the same. I’m stuck forever with my mother telling me to comb my hair, put my clothes away, stand up straight.” The two live in a “world devoid of men.” But when Persephone chances upon Hades in a meadow, she’s intrigued. She begins meeting him secretly. When he offers to take her away, Persephone jumps at the chance.
Although the two share a bed, Whitman keeps their relationship strictly at the PG level, with sighs and kisses.
Persephone discovers that with the right clothes, jewelry, and bearing, anyone can be a queen. Away from her formal duties, she learns to love the underworld, which is much like earth, and peopled with shades who appear as they did when they were alive. Oh, sure, there are a few things to avoid. The river Lethe calls out to the unwary or unhappy to bathe in its waters and lose all memories. And gruff Charon who ferries souls across the River Styx also owns a fierce three-headed dog that will rip to pieces anyone who dares try to return.
Demeter, the harvest goddess, responds to the loss of her daughter by first scorching the earth and then sending torrents of rain. And Persephone begins to suspect that everyone around her is keeping secrets – even the king she loves.
This lushly written novel perfectly captures a girl on the edge of womanhood.
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