Judging the Cover
A good cover can draw someone in before they read a word of the story, and that’s what the captivatingly-designed cover for A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair did to me. The book cover design is dark and lush, promising a story that’s much the same. I loved the way the gold filigree and flowers intertwine and partially obscure the simple, sans serif text used for the title. It remains legible while combining the cover design with the typography, so it doesn’t look like the title is just sitting on top of a pretty picture. Regina Wamba is an incredibly talented designer, and she did a fantastic job with A Touch of Darkness.
What’s the Story?
In a modern fantasy world, where most humans appear to go about their days as normal while gods and monsters live among them, Persephone is a goddess without magic. Her mother, Demeter, kept her hidden away from the world under the guise of protecting her, and it’s only when Persephone leaves for college that she gets a taste of the real world. While living among mortals, disguised as one of them, Persephone is under strict instructions to avoid interacting with any of the other gods or goddesses, especially Hades.
This, obviously, does not happen.
The story follows the story of Hades and Persephone in a modern retelling.
My Slightly Spoilery Scrutiny
Unfortunately, a beautiful and well-designed book cover does not always mean the writing is up to the same polished standards. I was all in on this book’s premise. Greek mythology? Love it. Hades and Persephone? I’m all here for it. Modern retelling? Fun! And yet, here I am, trying to figure out how to summarize all the ways this book fell short for me.
Let’s start with the characters, who are flat and underdeveloped. Persephone is supposed to be a journalist (which, ooooh we’ll get to that) who loves baking and spending time with her friends. However, despite being told for the whole book that she loves baking, the first and only time we see her do it is with Hades. Before that (which is near the end) it’s all tell, no show, which really bothered me. You can’t tell me that your character is three-dimensional and has her own life and interests, you have to show me, or I’m not going to believe you.
Everyone around Persephone seems to only exist to revolve around her. I don’t even remember what her best friend and roommate is studying in college or does for work, only that she’s super supportive and understanding for Persephone, and her two love interests in the story both had more to do with Persephone than her. Demeter, who is set up to be this overbearing helicopter parent, disappears for almost half the book. I guess she just…forgot about her only daughter? For example, it’s set up fairly early that Demeter and Persephone have lunch together every Monday. Demeter is very upset when Persephone demands a reschedule for the first time. This doesn’t come up again for the rest of the book. Expectations were set up and then left hanging, which bothered me.
Hades, who is hinted to have a deep backstory of growing and improving as a ruler, unfortunately, comes across as a very bog-standard tall, dark, and growl-ly love interest who drops everything for Persephone at all times and is always in the right place at the right time. It’s cute and sexy sometimes, but mostly it’s just cliche.
Okay, now we’re going to get to my issues with the journalism in this book. I was a communications major for a year and a half before swapping to graphic design, which means I took some journalism classes and worked with a lot of journalism students. Persephone is a journalism student. Why? Probably to rebel against her overbearing mother, because she certainly has none of the spark of investigative curiosity or drive for the truth that any of the journalism students at my school exhibit. She lands an internship at what is essentially set up to be the New York Times of this world (on what merits we’ll never know) and then doesn’t really do anything that’s not related to Hades the entire time she’s there. Her boss is easygoing and she meets maybe two coworkers the entire time. She’s allowed to write whatever she wants, isn’t given any non-Hades-related assignments, and appears to be able to come and go at will. But my biggest issue was that her coworker stole a draft of her article without her noticing, tweaked it, submitted it to her editor, and it apparently passed with no changes and printed with her name attached without her ever finding out. This killed the immersion for me. Gods walking among us, owning nightclubs, and going to their version of the Met Gala? Sure, why not! But this was so ridiculous, the idea that an intern’s first-ever article would be on the front page with absolutely no meeting between the editor and intern before publishing, that I wanted to throw the book across the room. (I didn’t, but it got a very firm glare from me.)
TRIGGER WARNING: SEXUAL ASSAULT/HARASSMENT
This is getting long, so I’m going to wrap this section up by talking about a part of the book that really bothered me. One of the characters at Persephone’s job constantly undermines and bothers her, and this culminates when he drugs her drink and forces a kiss on her. His motivations for this are unclear, and the whole disgusting situation felt like it was a setup for Hades to find them and rescue her. I’m sick of sexual assault being used as a plot device, and what makes it worse is that Persephone doesn’t seem overly affected by this. The whole thing takes a very serious issue and trivializes it into a minor plot point that advances the romantic plot, and that turned my stomach.
I know I had a lot of negative things to say in this review. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really like the book. However, to end on a less sour note, I’ll say that the world set up in A Touch of Darkness intrigued me, I liked some of the twists and modernization of the mythology (except for Hera having mortal love affairs, that I disliked because she’s literally the goddess of marriage and family and to my knowledge never cheated on Zeus) and there were some moments of cute interactions between Hades and Persephone. If you’re interested in a (sometimes) sexy retelling that you don’t have to think about too hard, then A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St. Clair might be for you.
Title: A Touch of Darkness
Author: Scarlett St. Clair
Publisher: POD DROPSHIP BRAND CODE
Length: 346 pages