The Dark Wife is a book with very specific appeal. This book is for the girls who wished all the Disney Princesses kicked as much ass as Mulan. This book is for the girls who made their Barbies into action heroes. This book is also for the girls who wished that Ariel would get rid of her boring prince and go on some more adventures.
That isn’t to say that The Dark Wife isn’t enjoyable to more general audiences- it’s an enjoyable story in and of itself. But it’s a true boon to those of us who love mythology and mysticism but are frustrated with the lack of truly inspiring and multifaceted female heroines in these genres.
The Dark Wife takes the best bits of the mythology of Ancient Greece, queers it and serves it up as a lyrically-crafted fairytale. Diemer’s writing style is a pleasure onto itself to read. She weaves poetic metaphors and elegant turns of phrase into a readable and fast-moving story. Hemingway she’s not, but her lush descriptions of the heroines and their fantastic surroundings are pure pleasure to read.
The female Hades is an austerely beautiful, black-eyed woman whose name has been slandered by the selfish Zeus.
Her eyes were black, every part of them, her
skin pale, like milk. Her hair dropped to the small of
her back, night-colored curls that shone, smooth and
liquid, as she cocked her head, as she gazed down at
me without a change of expression. She wasn’t
beautiful—the lines of her jaw, her nose, were too
proud, too sharp and straight. But she was
mesmerizing, like a whirlpool of dark water, where
SWOOOOOOON. Hades is a god(dess) of riches and well as the dead, an oft-overlooked detail that Diemer uses for lovely aesthetic effect: Hades’ kiss leaves a dusting of gold on Persephone’s hand.
Zeus, King of Gods is cast as the villain in The Dark Wife, and he’s more or less the same domineering, bullying rapist in the legends. For those of you unfamiliar with the King of Gods, he was known to go out in disguise (white bull, swan, shower of gold coins) and having his way with whatever attractive mortal/nymph/goddess who took his fancy. His victims often suffered transfigurations into wild beasts post-assault. No further villainization required.
Let’s talk about the lesbians. The Dark Wife is full of homoeroticism from the beginning. And there’s no coming-out angst, no trauma of familial rejection. It’s quite refreshing. Instead of agonizing over why she doesn’t desire some Adonis action, Persephone unabashedly admires and desires other women. Diemer captures the storminess and uncertainty that even hot immortals feel when falling in love.
There’s also a pretty interesting underworld citizen-discontent theme. Without revealing too much, they also subvert the violent hero-worship of the original legends and question the justice of the Greek afterlife. The Dark Wife has a style of conflict resolution similar to that found in Miyazaki films, with an emphasis on compassion and nonviolent problem solving (although there is a small amount of very satisfying Poison-Ivy style asskicking).
Especially recommended for fans of mythology and queer/feminist lit, The Dark Wife is a delicious little lesbian fairytale. I recommend making yourself a cup of Pomegranate Green Tea and devouring it over a cozy afternoon.
The Dark Wife is available on Sarah Diemer’s website in several formats, including a free ebook and audiobook for those who can’t afford to pay for the book.