Dazzling Brightness, by Roberta Gellis

>> Friday, May 04, 2007

Dazzling Brightness is the first in Roberta Gellis' Greek Mythology series. I've actually already read the first one, Shimmering Splendor, which was really good.

He was Lord of the Underworld, cast down by the gods into a kindom of everlasting darkness. She was born with mystical powers in a place of eternal light. And some where between the shadows and the sun was a world of treachery, danger, and unending desire...........

Against the savage splendor of Ancient Greece..from the exalted mountaintops of Olympus to a glittering midnight realm... they would defy the gods themselves to make their heaven right her on earth with a love that would blaze forever in.........

Dazzling Brightness
This is a book that starts out well, but then loses a lot of steam, mostly due to the lack of internal conflict. A B-.

The big twist in Gellis' reinterpretation of Greek myths is that her gods aren't gods. Hades, Zeus and the lot are simply powerful mages who use the powers given to them by the real goddess to make the natives think they're gods. Why? Power, adoration, tributes, that kind of thing.

Anyway, in this first book in the series, Gellis tackles the myth of Hades and Persephone, one of my favourites. Faced with the need to feed an increasing number of people in the Underworld (they aren't really dead, you see, so they need to eat), Hades arranges with his brother Zeus to take one of the Corn Goddess' priestess as his wife, so that crops can begin growing in his realm. Since Zeus had once adopted Demeter's sheltered daughter Kore, it's Kore that Hades will take, with her adoptive father's full consent, to make it all legal.

Kore doesn't really appreciate that fine point when Hades suddenly kidnaps her and drags her into the scary Underworld, a place everyone above ground is terrified of. But she soon comes to realize that the Underworld has a beauty of its own, just as Hades does. Plus, she'd be trading a life where she was smothered by her mother and had nothing of her own, not even a name ("Kore" means simply "girl"), for one in which she'd be the powerful Queen Persephone, with an adoring, genuinely kind and sexy husband and responsibilities of her own. No contest, really, and she quickly realizes so.

But ah, it won't be easy to convince Demeter of her daughter's well-being. She's so obsessed with recovering her Kore, that she soon unleashes a chain of events that could put everyone in Olympus against Hades and Persephone remaining together. It will take all their ingenuity, diplomacy and courage to manage to find a way to stay together.

Things started out really, really well. Gellis' vision of the Underworld is a fascinating one, and I loved the way she developed her heroine from the powerless, almost identity-less Kore to the powerful, sensible, extremely good ruler Persephone. I especially liked that it's not Hades who "makes" Kore into Persephone. It's obvious that she has the germs of common sense and intelligence in her from the very beginning; she's simply given the possibility of developing them in the Underworld.

The romance between these two is quite nice. I rolled my eyes a bit at the practically middle-aged Hades' lust-crazed fascination with the very young Persephone, but it was only at the very beginning that this gave me a shallow, creepy vibe. After a while, it becomes clear that it's Persephone's intelligence and strength that Hades loves.

And while the two lovebirds are exploring the Underworld and Kore is truly becoming Persephone, we see Demeter plotting and manouvering above ground, and her machinations are pretty interesting.

But... all good things come to an end. Near the half-way point, it becomes necessary that Persephone return to Demeter for a little while, to try to convince her she's ok, and I reached a kind of block. It reminded me so much of a similar point in SS, that I kind of didn't want to continue. I hate long separations. It was obvious one was coming, and it did, and it was just as boring as I feared.

I think the main problem is that the internal conflict is resolved way too early in the story. By page 150 or so, Hades and Persephone are in love, and everything's mostly fine between them. All that happens after that is external plot, and it's the equivalent of court intrigue in a historical... Zeus vs. Poseidon vs. Hades and Demeter throwing herself in the mix, plus everyone trying to calculate how everyone else will react. So-and-so resents so-and-so for this thing he did that time, so he might not defend him if so-and so attacks him, and so on, and so on, and so on.This is just personal taste speaking, but I find that kind of thing really boring.

Plus, I said everything's "mostly" fine between Hades and Persephone, and that's another thing I didn't much like. The issue I thought they still had to solve between them was one that wasn't really dealt with. It just wasn't acknowledged that it was an important one. And it was, IMO. Both these characters are much too prone to doubts and jealousy when not in the presence of the other, which gets old fast. Even worse, Hades was sometimes scary jealous, convincing himself that Persephone was betraying him at the slightest provocation. At one point he even knocks her to the ground in a jealous frenzy (mostly accidentally, but still), and I had visions of future physical abuse flashing before my eyes.

Still, the good first half makes up for the pretty boring second, and so this is a book I didn't mind spending a few hours with.

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