Shimmering Splendor, by Roberta Gellis

>> Monday, February 06, 2006

Shimmering Splendor is the second book in Roberta Gellis' Greek Mythology series. I didn't even know Gellis had written this series until I read the review at AAR. I'd never read anything by her before, but I had her identified as a writer of medievals and nothing more.

Anyway, the whole series looks very interesting, not just this one. I really should have started with Dazzling Brightness which not only is the first book in the series but is about the myth of Hades and Persephone, which I've always liked. However, since Shimmering Splendor arrived first, I decided not to wait. Oh, there's also Enchanted Fire, which sounds interesting as well, though I don't know what Gellis will do for a happy ending there (if there is one, of course), since it's about the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce.

Also, looking at amazon reviews, I saw mentions that Bull God (about the Minotaur) and Thrice Bound (about Hekate) are also related to the series, which is good to know, though at first glance they don't seem to have much romance.

Eros, God of Love

From the moment he beheld the exquisite Psyche, his heart was no longer his. To win her, he would even battle the powerful Aphrodite herself….

Psyche, as beautiful as a Goddess

The object of desire, she swore only to wed the man who showed her undying passion. Then fate made her the pawn of a vengeful goddess... and the prisoner of a mysterious but irresistible lover.

From the mists of timeless legend, bestselling, award-winning author Roberta Gellis has woven a tale of passion and enchantment that sweeps from the towering heights of Mount Olympus to the gentle gardens of Mount Pelion... where Psyche risks everything -even her earthly life- for an immortal love that will take her to heaven and beyond...
As fantasy, this is pretty damned good, and I adored it, but the romance had some problems, especially during the second half, so I'm giving this just a B.

Gellis does a fascinating reworking of the Greek myths here. The main thing is that her gods aren't really gods but powerful mages who have duped the "natives" into adoring them as if they were. With that as a premise, she takes the basics of the myth of Eros and Psyche and gives us her own original take on it.

As in the myth, Psyche is a mortal princess, well known for her beauty. This is actually a huge problem for her and for her family, because the effect of her appearance on most men is such that they become stupid. Psyche fears that any man she decides to marry will end up killing her out of jealousy, and she knows this might end up turning into a state problem, because her family will have to avenge her, which would mean war for the kingdom of Iolkas.

It is decided she will become a priestess in Aphrodite's temple, but when she gets there, the high priestess, who is a seer, realizes that Psyche actually hates even the idea of beauty, so she rejects her (and, by extension, Aphrodite). This angers Psyche's father, who forbids his people to worship at the temple, which, in turn, angers Aphrodite, who sends her good (and completely platonic) friend Eros to solve the problem for her.

When Eros arrives in Iolkas in disguise and meets Psyche, he's immediately smitten. I really loved the way Gellis writes this. It's not so simple as that he falls in love with the person regardless of her beauty, because that would imply he would have loved her even if she had been ugly. It's not exactly that way, because the main reason he's so drawn to her is precisely because being so beautiful has given her an understanding into how he himself feels... into the loneliness that is the consequence of people being so awestruck by his physical aspect that they can't relate to the person inside the flawless body.

Given that he understands Psyche's feelings completely, Eros realizes he can't very well punish her in the fashion he'd planned. Still, he needs to do something as an exemplary punishment, and so he devices a complicated plan, part of which is that Psyche will be left at the altar in the mountains one night to be forced to wed a monster... which will not really be a monster, but Eros (again) in disguise.

This first part of the book, then, is a wonderful Beauty and the Beast story. Eros takes Psyche from the site of her "sacrifice" and installs her at the house Aphrodite has given him near Olympus. He uses a spell to be always surrounded by a cloud of darkness which will prevent Psyche from seeing him, and he woos her until she's fallen in love with him. This part is just perfect, wonderfully romantic. I read it very slowly, for the simple reason that I wanted to savour every single word.

However, as I've implied, this is a book of two very distinct halves. I felt the book experienced quite a change around the half-way mark, when Psyche is allowed to visit her old home, to lay her family's fears for her to rest. There's this whole drama then because she has a hard time being able (physically able, I mean) to return, and this sabotages Eros' trust in her love. From that moment on, the dynamics between these two got really annoying. The relationship, which had seemed sweet and romantic at first, now felt sick and unhealthy to me, especially because of Eros' insecurities and his vulnerability to Aphrodite's meddling.

I especially hated all the emphasis on Psyche having to prove her love for Eros again, and again and again. Most of it wasn't Eros' idea (though it WAS his fault she felt the need to do that), but he's very quick to accept that idea of testing her there in the end, and I wanted Psyche to punish him in some way when she found out what he'd done.

Still, this second part works wonderfully as fantasy. The world-building is just as amazing as in the first, full of little details that make you really feel there, and even when I felt like bitch-slapping Eros, I didn't get bored. In the end, Gellis made the myth her own and gave it depth and life, and I can't wait to see what she's done with the other ones.


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