EDIT 5/18/2016: removed major spoilers from review
By all accounts, I should have hated this book-- a coming of age story, a YA book, a bastardization of mythology, a "chosen one" narrative, love at first sight, and all told in first person perspective? Usually, I wouldn't have gotten past the first few chapters.
One of the strongest elements of the story is that Hades isn't the first woman that Persephone falls in love with. For that matter, the love story isn’t the focus of the plot. Instead, Persephone has to juggle grief, massive disillusionment with her father, and adjusting to a completely different world on top of falling hard for Hades. Add in a brewing revolt of the restless dead, and nary a page goes by without some interesting development cropping up.
There's only one word needed to sum up the romance: adorable. From their fairy tale-like meet cute to the adoption of a Cerberus puppy, Hades and Persephone spend almost all of their time being the quintessential young couple. It's actually quite refreshing that almost no conflict results from internal struggle-- another book might might have capitalized on their opposing natures to drum up some misunderstanding, but THE DARK WIFE is well-aware that it has more than enough plot as it is. Instead, their romance is a slow burn that progresses in relation to how Persephone and Hades are growing as people. While hardly a "sexy" story, there's a very good balance between physical attraction and emotional capability. As a lesbian myself, I also appreciated that there's no "forbidden" nature or overt homophobic objections to any of the three girl-girl pairings that crop up in the story.
Another strength of the narrative is the entire character of Pallas. She infuses so much life into the story that it's hard not to smile when she pops up. As the sole spirit of the Underworld that happily welcomes Persephone's arrival, Pallas' upbeat nature and brash personality perfectly balances out the sweet nervousness of Persephone and the somber elegance of Hades. Pallas' own tragic backstory as a mortal lover of Athena's creates an interesting parallel to Persephone's romantic woes. It’s always great to see diverse personalities in lesbian characters, and Pallas adds a much needed level of complexity to the plot.
Outside of Pallas, however, the rest of the cast is quite flat. Persephone is the typical flustered teenage girl, Hades is the dark but surprisingly sweet love interest, Hermes is a smooth-talking meddler, Zeus is an unrepentant asshole, etc. Demeter was practically non-existent! While it’s understandable that there's only so much that can be done in a novel of such a short length, it was disappointing that characters with such a vibrant history are given so little characterization or expansion in this retelling. Hades is probably the best of the lot, as she maintains the dutiful nature of her mythological namesake with extra attention given to the figure's sympathetic tendencies.
Zeus is probably the worst offender, made worse by the fact that he actually starts out as a good villain for the first half of the book. THE DARK WIFE capitalizes on the fact that in mythology, Zeus almost always gets away scot-free despite whatever or whoever he's done damage to on a whim. Portrayed as a power-mad conqueror, liar, and rapist, Zeus serves as the main antagonist of the story in lieu of romantic conflict. However, while Persephone is given legitimate reasons to hate him, Zeus devolves into unbelievable cartoonish villainy by the end. Only the weakest justification for his crimes are ever given, nor is Persephone's perception of him ever questioned. Annoyingly, the plot sacrifices Demeter's righteous fury to make Zeus even more evil, robbing the story of one of the best dynamics of the original myth. The changes made to him and the myth during the finale of the novel just feel so pointless and unnecessary that it's impossible to give THE DARK WIFE the high rating that it deserves.
Even with all its problems, THE DARK WIFE is a gem in a sea of self-published titles, and it's an extremely strong first outing by author Sarah Diemer. For anyone looking for a soft and sweet lesbian YA fantasy, this book comes highly recommended.