Thursday, 24 February 2022
Rating: 4 stars
Psyche Demetriou wishes her mother would stop trying to push her at the most powerful men in Olympus to arrange a solid business alliance. She's used to pretending to be shallow and vain, as well as deaf to all the voices who try to tear her down for her social position or body shape. She misses the quiet life before her mother became hugely powerful and sees the good in everyone, to the point where she spends time patching up dangerous hitman Eros at a party when he arrives late and clearly the worse for wear. Unfortunately, in Olympus, no good deed goes unpunished and Psyche and Eros are caught on camera in what appears to be an amorous embrace.
Eros has been his mother Aphrodite's hitman, general fixer, and all-round boogeyman since he was still a teenager. By now, he's pretty sure he's killed enough to drown both what is left of his heart and conscience in heinous deeds ordered by his volatile parent. Yet when Aphrodite orders him to murder Psyche, as she's upset both by the positive press the woman is getting and Demeter's matchmaking attempts, Eros finds that he has had enough. Psyche showed him gentleness and kindness when no one else would have dared, and he rationalises that if they get married, she will be safe, as Aphrodite would never have her own daughter-in-law murdered.
Given the choice between death or a marriage of convenience to the frightening, but utterly gorgeous Eros, Psyche doesn't really feel she has any choice but to accept. They agree to stay married until Aphrodite is no longer in power, and Eros promises he will do everything in his power to protect her and keep her safe. They need to present the union as an impulsive love match for the ages, but Psyche is mostly worried about how she's going to persuade her sisters to believe that she's suddenly so smitten with Eros that she'd marry him on next to no notice.
Last summer, I was lucky enough to be granted an ARC for Ms. Robert's Neon Gods, the first book in this series of Greek mythology-inspired contemporary romances. I've checked out some of her erotic reimaginings of Disney villains and other characters, and while they were fine, they didn't really tempt me to read more. With her Dark Olympus books, however, I'm really intrigued at world building and cast of characters she's establishing.
The actual world-building is a bit vague, mostly a big modern city divided into an upper and a lower half, with most of the power divided between thirteen very powerful individuals, named after the Greek pantheon. Only a few of the positions, like for instance Zeus and Hades, are hereditary, the others are assigned. The old Zeus died at the end of the previous novel, now his son is Zeus, and looking for a wife, who will automatically become Hera. Both Demeter and Aphrodite are extremely influential and wield a lot of power, but if they die or are removed, they are not automatically replaced by a family member, someone non-related can easily assume the name and mantle of power. It's established that one of the points of contention between Demeter and Aphrodite is that Demeter was elected by the people of Olympus by popular vote, and Aphrodite is clearly a woman who doesn't deal well with jealousy, and frequently punishes people she feels have offended her by sending her son to send a bloody, or lethal message. Eros has clearly long been uncomfortable with being his mother's weapon of choice, and when he's tasked to cold-bloodedly murder an innocent woman who recently showed him vulnerability and kindness, just because his mother is annoyed with her mother, he decides that he needs to draw a line.
As far as I can tell from her Twitter, Katee Robert has a lot of books planned in this series, and I'm totally OK with that. We mainly spend each book almost wholly focused on the main couple, but a little bit about the wider world and some supporting characters also flesh out the stories. Eros and Psyche aren't complete strangers, having appeared in the same social circles for years. Eros hasn't really shown anyone his true self, though, and Psyche has a very firmly established public persona, which doesn't always match up with the home-loving and sweet person she really is. She's not exactly thrilled with the thought of marrying Eros, but if the only other option is death, she's pragmatic enough to agree. Even before letting their guards down towards each other, the couple certainly share a strong physical attraction, which means Eros can pretend to himself that the only reason he's suggesting the match is so he can sleep with Psyche.
I'm not sure which of the two books I've read in the series so far I prefer. I really liked Persephone and Hades in Neon Gods (and love their cameo appearances here). Both novels are more than entertaining (and steamy) enough that I'll be waiting with bated breath for more installments. There's some very interesting developments set up in this story, and I can't wait to see how things play out in future books.
Judging a book by its cover: I think the first cover mock-up for this book featured an ornate gilded mirror, which was fine, but the final cover is so much more eye-catching. I really like the glowing jewel heart - and considering that the hero supposedly is very stone-hearted, the image fits on several levels.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.