This book came to me via a recommendation by author Cathy Pegau on Twitter and I'm so very happy we were both in the same digital space that day. I adore Hades and Persephone retellings, not only because Demeter/Ceres is my BFF, but also because Hades is the ultimate bad boy. When done properly, retellings make their relationship a forbidden romance rather than a forced abduction and well, I am here for that every day.
What makes The Dark Wife different? Hades is a Goddess, for one thing. She's mysterious but kind. Compassionate with the dead and forgiving of those who act against her. Except for Zeus (I'll get to him). She loves horses and her giant, monstrous puppy, and I don't know how anyone wouldn't fall head over heels in love with her.
Content Warning before we go further: This review mentions sexual assault.
Persephone is cast as young and sheltered, but not naive. The book opens with her in passionate love with a nymph, only to see Zeus (her FATHER) raping the nymph before turning her into a rosebush and disappearing. It's not long before Persephone realizes that when her father says he wants to take Persephone to Olympus, he means to treat her the same as he treats Demeter and every other being he considers less than himself. He's the King of the Gods and he gets what he wants.... until now.
Persephone meets Hades and finds herself taking Hades up on her offer to come to the Underworld, where Zeus can't reach her. Persephone has agency, choice, and strength in this retelling. It's a very slow burn, the relationship between Persephone and Hades, both because Persephone's lover has just been turned into a plant but also because Hades wants to make sure that Persephone has time to consider all of her choices. It's very well done, especially with regard to consent and power.
All this said, Zeus is an absolute shitbag and I wanted to kill him. He gets what's coming to him, but if anything is going to prevent you from reading this book, it's him.
Diemer's prose is lovely and I enjoyed the scenery she created in the Underworld, the characters she developed, and the friendships between women. I happily recommend this to anyone looking for a lesbian romance that strikes the balance between dark and light.
Content Warnings: On-page rape (not super graphic, but it's there), discussion of other rapes (Zeus is a shitbag), incest (between the Gods), mentions of war and, of course, death