Friday, August 4, 2023

Girl, Goddess, Queen - Bea Fitzgerald

I first came across Bea Fitzgerald through her @chaosonolympus account (greek myth based comedy) maybe a year or two ago, and when I saw she had a book coming out I was interested despite it being Young Adult and based on the Hades and Persephone myth. My track record with YA is mixed - there are a lot of great books out there that deal with a time in life I'm not that interested in at this point in my own life.

There are also a lot of frankly rubbish versions of Hades and Persephone as a love story - or vehicle for unimaginative smut and I've been caught out by this before. I had high hopes for this one though, the Tik-Toks are funny so I jumped at the chance of a review copy when it came up. 

I wasn't disappointed. 'Girl, Goddess, Queen' is definitely written with a younger audience in mind - there's nothing in here I'd think twice about giving to a 12 or 13-year-old, but the jokes are funny, and the room for female rage kept me happily reading through just over 470 pages. 

The length of the thing would be my major quibble - I think this could be 50 - 70 pages shorter. The plot gets a little bit overwhelmed by banter in places, and there's some repetition or overstressing of points that could be cut. But then I also think the banter is what the intended audience is going to most love about this Hades and Persephone and longer books demonstrably don't put off younger readers. 

In this version of the story, Persephone isn't kidnapped - she goes to Hades seeking refuge. She's been kept sequestered on Sicily her whole life, protected from men by a mother all too aware of the dangers they pose. She's also been protecting Persephone from a father who will not tolrate any opposition or perceived threat to his power. Persephone tells Zeus she wants the world when she's 8 years old, and he does not like it. Now though Zeus and Demeter are arranging a marriage for her based on a sort of auction amongst their peers and she's having none of it. 

Hades is the one god who doesn't come with a string of rape allegations so he's the obvious person (and place) to turn to. Initially, he's not too happy to have his peace disrupted by an unwanted visitor, but Persephone forces his hand by invoking the laws of hospitality, and slowly they overcome mutual distrust and hostility to become friends. In the process, there's lots of found family and purpose whilst the pair realise how well they complement each other - and then they decide to marry to avoid the wrath of Zeus about to hit both of them and to better allow Persophone to bring her own brand of chaos into the family.

In this book the couple are much of an age - Hades was the first child Kronos swallowed, so the last to be released from his stomach, here he stays in a sort of stasis until there isn't a disturbing age difference - but this and a few other details also suggest that the time of immortal gods runs differently to human time. Persephone is both 18 and eternal, craft projects that should take weeks or months are achieved in days, but the war between the Titans and the gods has been over for both a long time and no time at all. 

Her determination to upend the patriarchy definitely feels like it was more than 18 years in the making, and here the love story that underpins the plot becomes incidental. She's angry at the lack of agency she's allowed, confused by the depth of power she finds within herself, and worried about how to hide it sufficiently to keep herself safe from her father. She's angry with her mother for the way her efforts to protect have stifled her and this is done particularly well. Persephone is allowed to be a complex and occasionally morally grey character. She's a goddess and a queen - she doesn't always need to be nice, or even be liked - she's more than happy to be feared and she's entirely open about wanting power.

Before I give too many spoilers there's also a lot of information about Greek philosophy, concepts of love (another thing I really liked about this book), and mythology. There are discussions about consent which always make me happy in any romance book. Demeter is as complex as Persephone, neither a heroine nor a villain, but a mother making questionable decisions to protect a daughter she's not ready to let go of. Zeus is a villain, as well he should be. 

This is very obviously a book that's expected to do well and is being promoted accordingly. In this case it lives up to the hype. 

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