The tale people all thought they knew, but there was so much more to Kore. This book means so much to me I’ve struggled to articulate just how powerful and beautiful it is. But as the wheel has spun to the Equinox, the time of Kore’s descent, I must find my words and give thanks for this beautiful, deeply wondrous and empowering book.
I love mythology, and Greek Mythology is one branch I have adored since childhood, I even did my degree in Ancient History and wrote my dissertation on the depiction of women with magic within Classical mythology so the myth of Persephone is a total nerd out for me… then add my spirituality in and you can guess what this book may have meant to me.
So much I made a dress for MYSELF inspired by this book. I delayed posting in the hope I could publish both this review and my bookbounding post, but if you are aware of what has been happening in my real life, you may understand why I have not yet been able to take photos, and maybe even of me (eek) in the dress. But watch out soon as I have plans to take remotely!
be aware:book concerns the Underworld aka the Land of the Dead therefore there will be discussion and depiction of death and grief, and death and grieving for young people, there is also depiction of punishing for behaviour whilst alive , alongside this is depiction of a girl in crisis as her world falls apart as she falls from our world into the Underworld.
Garden loving Corey is raging, betrayed by her boyfriend and best friend Bree, she is determined to show she is ‘over it’ but equally never will ‘forgive or forget’ and so at the festival where everyone wears a mask she kisses an unknown boy with golden lips and asks herself ‘Imagine if this mattered?’
By the end of the night, her ex-best friend has drowned and the whole island is grieving, but Corey feels robbed of her righteous rage in the midst of her community sanctifying the memory of the one who has hurt her the deepest as is always done when someone young dies. She stomps off the to hills and sees a spectre of Bree walking on the island off shore and a man in black welcoming her.
As Corey tumbles into the Underworld, she will confront her true self, all the murky broken parts along with the help of the Furies and the God of Death himself….
But what can happen when the earthly seeds in her pockets start to grow?
Before I get into the nitty gritty of the ways I love the mythology interpretation in Her Dark Wings, I need to just say about the setting and world that Melinda creates, both upon the island and in the wider world.
A world where Ancient Greek religious practices and belief has permeated the world instead of Christianity, but with a post modern awareness as outlier spaces are more devout than ‘godless’ cities. Listening to her editor at the celebration party I saw how deeply and thoughtfully this had been curated based on a respectful understanding of classical writing as much as interpretation and imagination and that was indeed icing on the cake for this Classics/Ancient History graduate.
Throughout the section set on the island there is an undeniable feel of Summerisle-before-it-all-went-wrong, with a Greek twist. Many neopagans & alternate spirituality people adore the world of Summerisle right up until Edward Woodward is tricked up to The Wicker Man then it’s like…oh…
Upon Corey’s Scottish isle they are similarly steeped in myth but without the human sacrifice- the study of mythological roots, childhood play as devotees of Artemis, the togetherness of festivals and community even if Corey feels she’s just going through the motions for the Thesmophoria- coincidentally the Greek festival celebrating Demeter and Persephone- and that much like our world, the cultural festivals have loosened their stricter religious rules becoming seasons and ‘holidays’ to fit the less pious-by-peril modern world.
Without the proper rituals the dead are left behind on the shores of Styx, unable to move on. its kind of the same when someone breaks up with you… And you have to do them, or you won’t move on either.
I have always adored the story and symbology of Kore becoming Persephone but long detested the fetishised virginity and rape mythology of the ‘Classical’ period translations of Persephone myth.
Part of the Outer Mysteries these stories focusing on the dichotomy of the cruel heartless Hades tricking and abducting the terrified but brave virginal victim Kore who resists and starves until Zeus intervenes to bring an end to the cold barren winter of Demeter’s discontent; but alas she was so hungry Kore was tricked again by Hades and consumed six seeds of the pomegranate in the Underworld and is now tethered and doomed to travel between the two at each equinox causing the wheel of the year to turn.
This is both a fable explaining the turning of the seasons, as Demeter’s grief or joy plunges us into winter or summer depending on her daughter’s departure or arrival in our world, but is also an ancient version of Little Red Riding Hood perpetuating the belief that girls virginity must be maintained and protected or they will be tricked by wicked men, wolves, or gods and robbed of their virtue.
In the earth before me is a single narcissus…They were Bree”s favourites…I reach out and take it.
And the ground beneath my feet opens, swallowing me whole.
Kore is an afterthought in the original myths even when she becomes Persephone, Queen of the Dead, she is still a pawn in the power struggle between her Husband/abuser (depending on what angle you take) and Mother.
Even as Persephone, she is stripped of enjoying her role, nor relishing in her power and leaning into the dark because even 2500 years after the Greeks diminished in power, she is still subject to the Ancient Greek male world that deemed to record it, the civilisations after that kept and copied out the knowledge in their libraries, the later Christian forces that assessed the writings as not important/dangerous enough to be destroyed and thus good calligraphy practice for monks , and later 18th/19th century privileged white male Western Christian scholars translating within their social lens; all seemingly linked in revering and blending in each writing an idealisation of silent, dutiful, beautiful, obedient victims and separate, disenfranchised women.
It is only really in late 20th and early 21st century interpretations, and largely outside the traditional academic sphere that the inner mysteries of Persephone have been unpeeled and questioned, looking into the way her story represents one of the first and eternally relevant YA coming of age tales, as she leaves behind the virginal dutiful daughter Kore to become an woman, with all the complexity that accrues whether you be an Ancient Athenian or a 21st century GenZ.
I didn’t think I was having a breakdown, either. This is just what its like living with the aftermath of having your heart ripped out and stomped on by the one person who was never, ever supposed to do that.
Melinda takes Kore and gives her back through Corey everything that has been stolen from her, she allows her to be sensual, somewhat experienced, rage-filled, passionate, vengeful, error making, challenging, opinionated, dirty and unkempt, flawed, broken and utterly glorious in that. Corey comes to terms with being the mistress of her own destiny and no longer letting her past, her peers or family oversee her path and decisions and thus her power within blazes.
Melinda gives Kore back her choice to descend to the Underworld and unashamedly claim her crown, and Hades in the process.
And completely depowers Demeter in the process as whilst there are hints and whispers and quickly closed mouths, Corey’s mother is this distant figure who left her, just another thorn amongst the many others have hurt her but shaped her into an opinionated and independently capable young woman.
and then he appeared, with wide shoulder, a smile full of promises, and shadowed eyes… i wanted to swallow him down like honey… I wanted to consume this boy until he was my sweat and my tears, until it killed me
As an aside, I love the moody emo-but-in-preppy-clothes Hades that Melinda nurtures in the plot. She is respectful of the late Roman and post modernist ‘take’ on Hades, recognising how un-Olympian he is in the source material.
Instead of the dark villain to be afraid of, the origin Hades challenges the ‘games’ the Gods play with human life and largely has little to do with their bluster and bellicosity and whilst adored Kore from afar, actually loves and is loved by Persephone the woman she finds herself to be once rid of the expectations of the upper world.
Melinda unpeels a god who is a reluctant Lord of the Dead, quietly dutiful to his allotted task, lonely, but unable to change his landscape because his brothers got the ‘better’ dominions. Through Corey though, there is hope and beauty and wonder brought back to his world. Melinda makes those who aren’t already there think again in their concept of Hades, but ultimately casts all Seven Veils of the Descent away to reveal the utter glory of Persephone in Corey.
And so much more, this book is one that shifts perspectives and souls and I implore those with magic and myth in their heart to descend with Corey. I think I have to stop there because, otherwise… I might not stop. Although I do geek out on the symbolism in the clothing Corey wears in my already written just needs pictures bookbounding post so check that out when it posts!
Her Dark Wings by Melinda Salisbury is published by David Fickling Books