Monday, August 31, 2009

Radiant Darkness by Emily Whitman


 I picked up Radiant Darkness after seeing it pop up on my Amazon recommendations page.  I have to admit that I was a little skeptical when I found it at the bookstore because the cover is a little 'cheezy'!  I am not one to judge books by their cover art and the description inside the book flap sounded interesting- so I bought it.
    This story is a retelling of the classic myth of Hades and Persephone.  I love mythology and Emily Whitman totally turned this classic myth upside down!  In its original form the myth says that Hades (Ruler of the Underworld) came above the ground to Earth and kidnapped Persephone against her will and tricked her into becoming his wife and Queen.  Hades is viewed as cruel, evil and manipulative.  Demeter (Goddess of the Harvest) is Persephone's mother and retaliates against Hades by causing massive drought and suffering on Earth.  Zeus eventually steps in and declares that Persephone must spend half of the year in the Underworld with Hades (this is said to occur during the cold months of the year when there is no growth on Earth because Demeter is in mourning for her daughter) and half of the year with Demeter on Earth (this is said to occur in the warm months when the Earth is bountiful because Demeter is happy to have her daughter home).
     Radiant Darkness spins the myth from Persephone's point of view.  In this story she is absolutely suffocated by her mother and her rules and restrictions.  She longs for a chance to break free and become her own person. Demeter forces Persephone to stay secluded in the vale, away from any possible bad influences (especially men!).  Persephone is desperate to "grow up" and finds the opportunity when a handsome and mysterious stranger wanders into her vale.  The two begin to meet secretly and fall in love before Persephone realizes that he is Hades (ruler of one third of creation!!).  Hades professes his love to her and asks Persephone to leave the vale and join him in the Underworld as his Queen.  Persephone leaves with him without letting her mother know her plan.  As Persephone is getting accustomed to being a Queen and learning the ways of her new home, Demeter is unleashing her fury of Earth.  As in the classic tale, Zeus steps in to help settle this dispute, but this story has Persephone suggesting the compromise that will enable her to be with her beloved husband as his Queen for half the year and to be with her mother the other half to help her renew the Earth.
     I really liked hearing the story from Persephone's perspective.  It was original and fun to read.  However, I would have liked to have seen the relationship she had with Hades developed better.  Yes.. you knew that they were in love but I didn't feel the connection between them as much as I wanted to.  Hades was dark, mysterious and seductive and Persephone was young, innocent and completely inexperienced.  With the target audience young adult,  this book was understandably very PG when delving into the more intimate aspects of their relationship.  However I feel that, even while maintaing an appropriate tone, the author could have explored it further.  This dynamic is important to their relationship but is left largely to speculation.  That being said........ this is a good book and a fun read!  I think that is appropriate for ages 4th grade and up.  I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy mythology and to those that appreciate cute (and clean!) love stories

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