Katee Robert was a name unknown to me until I read nart’s review of Neon Gods, and her review (and those of other Cannonballers) made me intrigued by the premise – modern-day retellings of Greek myths where the gods of Olympus are actually mortal rulers of the city of Olympus, in an unknown country only loosely connected to our real world. It’s an interesting setting, and allows Robert to make up her own rules about how things work and why. As other reviewers have pointed out, sometimes Robert’s rules are awfully plot-dependent, and the existence of magic is kind of hand-waved, and some of the world she’s created isn’t always logical. But the books themselves are compelling, and I was invested in the characters.
The first, Neon Gods, is a re-telling of the Hades and Persephone myth, although one where Persephone is fleeing a marriage to the very unpleasant Zeus (de facto head of the council which rules Olympus) which has been brokered by her ambitious mother Demeter, to end up with Hades. In this Olympus, ‘Zeus’, ‘Demeter’, ‘Hades’ and the rest of the Thirteen are titles of their respective roles and responsibilities; Demeter was elected to the role fairly recently, and is still cementing her power and alliances; Zeus, on the other hand, has been so for more than thirty years, and looks like hanging on to power for at least that long again. Persephone manages to cross the River Styx, which separates the upper city (where most of the Thirteen live and operate) from the lower (which is solely Hades’ bailiwick), and ends up bargaining with Hades to stay in the lower city as his lover for three months until she can access her trust fund and leave Olympus entirely:
“Zeus is notorious for not wanting what he considers tarnished goods.” I take a deep breath. “So… tarnish me.”
Persephone becomes Hades’ lover, both in private and in public, explores and comes to love the lower city, and appreciates his care and concern for its people – a stark contrast to how the rest of the Thirteen appear to view the citizens of the upper city.
The second book, Electric Idol, tackles the Eros and Psyche myth. Eros here is not the somewhat infantilised winged child, but one who is notorious as his mother Aphrodite’s ‘fixer’, and is rumoured to have (though never actually charged with) murdered people his mother wanted gone. Due to an act of kindness done to him by Psyche (one of Persephone’s sisters), and because Psyche’s own social media influence in the city threatens Aphrodite’s, Eros is commanded by his mother to kill the younger woman. But it’s also that act of kindness which initially prompts him to propose marriage instead (although he is definitely prepared to go ahead with with her murder – this is not a good guy at all). Seeing very little possible alternative, Psyche agrees to go through with it, and their initial interactions warm into affection and then something more.
These were both quick, but enjoyable reads. There’s a lot of sex, properly consensual, in both; Hades and Persephone are much more into kink than Eros and Psyche. The plots are interesting, and some of the minor characters are really intriguing – Eris Kasios, for instance, one of Zeus’s daughters, or the Hermes, who seems able to play all sides of the power struggle. But the main characters are realistic and easy to like, and the developing relationships, sparked by initial attraction, develop and deepen over time. The next book in the series is due in June, and I’m sure I’ll be reading that one as well.