The Goddess Test & Persephone’s Orchard

I have mentioned before having a weakness for retellings or re-imaginings of the myth of Hades and Persephone. More often than not, this leads me to .99 e-books…which can be great! But sometimes it leads me to…not-great.

But let’s save that one for last, hm?

I picked up The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter after seeing it float around booktube and booklr for what seems like several years. I got the impression it was on the “younger end” of YA, which kept me from picking it up for a while.

And man, sometimes, when you are right you’re right. The issues I had with this book reading it at 25 I don’t know if I would have had reading it at 13 or 14. There is a scene and one or two brief discussions of non-explicit sex in the book, but I would still say it overall anchors more juvenile fiction than leaning even to the murky waters of “New Adult,” (which is to my knowledge…YA with the sex scenes left in? If you have any NA recommendations to confirm or deny this please let me know! My experience is clearly limited). This isn’t an inherent drawback, to me, so much as something to know going into it. I think it excuses some of the convenience/predictability of the plot, which is why I won’t rag on it to much.

The best parts of this book are our protagonist Kate herself, who is allowed in the narrative to be angry and emotional and unprepared for what’s at hand which is really refreshing to read. Her actions have consequences and in a story based off one that can lean on a protagonist with little or questionable agency, Kate’s decisions drive the plot forward consistently, rather than being purely reactionary. I also enjoyed that Henry, our Hades, was the one being pursued throughout the course of the novel. It was an interesting take  on the original myth and I always love seeing breakups and their aftermath explored in fiction, especially YA, because it’s underdone in that genre specifically.

The worst parts…aside from the convenience like I mentioned before, this is called The Goddess Test for a reason, in theory. Kate has to pass certain tests to claim the place of Queen of the Underworld — but you never really see those tests take place. The way they are described to Kate (and subsequently to the reader), makes them sound like the challenges at the Triwizard Tournament. At the risk of a mild spoiler, I will only say this isn’t the actual case. But Kate herself never seems to question this at all — the when, where, and what of her trials, which seems at odds with her character that’s otherwise shown. It was just odd to me, and ultimately unsatisfying. (Also, there is an antagonist/villain in this story that makes no sense, nor can their eluding from capture of a literal pantheon of gods).

Overall, my initial impression of this book was mediocre. The ending tied up almost too neatly, and as much as I loved the characters of Kate and Henry, the others were a bit two dimensional and the story had it’s own separate issues. But immediately after finishing this very quick read, I had a few more hours in the day to get familiar with the Kindle store and Persephone’s Orchard, by Molly Ringle.

I suppose this one fit my expectations of “New Adult.” In a weird way? I have odd feelings about this one.

Let’s get the good part done: there is an element to this retelling that I really love. Whenever a story is able to work in a past-life element well, I’m immediately suckered in. The premise of this book, the structure that the author chose to use to explain the original myth in the context of where our actual story takes place, is not bad. It’s an interesting examination of a “fated” relationship, and what that means and looks like across space and time. But. But.

In political science, we talk a lot about descriptive versus substantive representation. Descriptive representation, as I’m sure you can imagine, is where governing bodies match their population in terms of race, gender, ability, etc. However, descriptive representation falls short to substantive representation, where the interests of these varied groups are represented in governing bodies.

I bring this up because it is clear and apparent to me that the author made conscious effort to make this novel representative and diverse. But it seems more like it was done for the sake of doing it (because it was something it “should” be, or the “right” thing). There’s something ham handed about it, like the author didn’t do enough research before placing these characters in the narrative. If the only consistent characterization or description a character gets is about their demographic profile, I have an issue with it. And more blatant to me is the ableism in this novel.

Adrian, our Hades in the story, gets “magically cured” of his paraplegia in this book, conveniently right before he becomes a love interest. How many times will authors try to pull this shit on us? Moreover, the way he discusses his former disability is cringeworthy, and the writing is so simple that it comes across that the author doesn’t understand the concepts that she’s writing about, almost more than just having portrayed them poorly. On top of that, the antagonists of the story have motives that might make sense on paper but you don’t really feel are understandable.

I don’t really know how to wrap this up. Both of these novels fall short of my expectations in some regard, but I’m still more willing to recommend The Goddess Test overall, so long as you set your expectations accordingly. I’m still on the lookout for more retellings, though, so if you have a recommendation please let me know!

If you’ve read either of these, please share your thoughts below! I hope y’all have a wonderful weekend! 🙂

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