by Alisha Rai
2011 (Samhein Publishing, Ltd)
The ancient Greek myth of Persephone has been reinterpreted and revisited in multiple facets of contemporary culture for centuries. Elisabetta Genovese played a character with her name in Pasolini´s The Canterbury Tales (1972), as did Monica Bullucci in 2003´s The Matrix Reloaded (in fact, in film number four of the franchise released last year, she and the Merovingian make a cameo at a place called Club Hel). I personally enjoyed how her story has been artistically altered in two volumes of poetry: Rita Dove´s Mother Love, and Averno by Louise Glück.
But Persephone transformed into an erotic romance?
Alisha Rai does just that in her novella Hot As Hades, a modern retelling which combines humor, love, and romance in a contemporary vernacular. There are also a few scenes which are not only sexy but magical, quite beyond the norm. These are gods, after all.
The story opens with a naked Persephone suddenly appearing on the lap of Hades, neither knowing exactly how she arrived or how she breached his infernal kingdom´s defense. Rather than portray him as evil and callous, Rai chooses to depict this lord of the Underworld as misunderstood and awkward, despite all of his power. Think of him as super goth, with a bottomless appetite, who does his best to treat Persephone with respect. Hades even has a cute little dog (albeit one with three heads).
In Rai´s retelling, Persephone is the adopted daughter of Demeter (in the original Greek, she is Hades´ niece), one who is unaware of the true extent of her powers. She is eager to learn, and she enlists Hades to mentor her in a kind of crash course in divinity. In addition to ultimately providing a way for both of them to get even with the manipulative Zeus (who makes a couple of smarmy appearances in the story), the couple also falls in love and a considerable amount of playful lust.
Erotic literature is a highly malleable form, providing authors with the chance to combine this genre with other forms for inventive results, from paranormal to science fiction. Hot As Hades is the first time I´ve ever read one which mines Greek mythology for inspiration, but it´s a logical fit, given how frisky those deities tend to be. Rai sanitizes some of the details of the original source material--in addition to eliminating any blood relation between Hades & Persephone, there is no kidnapping or rape in this novella, which those knowledgeable about Greek mythology may find surprising. But this is a minor point, as this book is less about scholarship and more about using this narrative frame as a starting point for an inventive and fun romp through the underworld.