A runaway slave with a shadowy past, sixteen-year-old Persephone has spent four long years toiling beneath the leering gaze of her despised owner and dreaming of a life where she is free to shape her own destiny. Then, one night, a chance encounter with a handsome chicken thief named Azriel changes her life forever.
Sold to him for a small bag of gold coins, Persephone soon discovers what she already suspected: namely, that Azriel is not what he seems. And when she realizes that he believes Persephone has a special destiny—she is determined to escape him and his impossibly broad shoulders.
But things are no longer as simple as they once were. Torn between her longing for freedom and her undeniable feelings for the handsome thief with the fast hands and the slow smile, Persephone faces the hardest choice she will ever have to make. And no one least of all her—could have imagined the shocking truth her decision will reveal.
So I just wrote a shorter version of this review for reasons I will reveal later. And while I was writing that, I remembered just how much I love this novel. I think I may love this one as much as I loved Seraphina. And you know what that means? I’m going to have to buy a hardcover copy and get Maureen Fergus to sign it for me. Now, I don’t even know whether she’ll be making any appearances in Vancouver but if she is, I’m going.
Anyway, let’s talk about this book because it is the reason I am holding on to your attention. If you like strong heroines who are flawed and behave in flawed ways sometimes, then you will like Persephone. Persephone is nothing like the Greek goddess (of Spring) she shares a name with. She is a slave and her thoughts are naturally preoccupied with a desire for freedom in the true sense of the word. I cannot pretend to know what it means to not own one’s own person but I can empathize with her feelings. Fergus creates a vibrant world where Gypsies are hunted and killed simply because of who they are. This genocide is a contemporary issue and Fergus does not dress it up prettily or try to excuse it. She portrays the horror of a people who are being eradicated through no fault of their own. Azriel is a gypsy who, with all his charm, buys Persephone from her owner. Not that she thanks him for it, of course.
Their relationship is engaging, fun and complex. The romance is present but it doesn’t take over the narrative. In fact, Persephone’s feelings are deliciously ambiguous and I get the feeling that if she had to choose between Azriel and her freedom, she would choose the latter. There is a prophecy (that Persephone snorts rudely at) and there are animals who are blindly devoted to Persephone. Her eccentricities and flaws make her into a likeable character despite some of her more dubious decisions. (Keep in mind, these decisions are not stupid and nothing damning.)
All the characters present in the novel are individuated and have their own personalities. The courtly intrigues and the young king who is very interested in Persephone spice of the narrative significantly. The villain of the piece is a most intriguing character. He is deformed but for he has a beautiful face and it is his desire to be whole again that motivates his actions. He is one of the creepiest and yet saddest villains I have come across in literature recently. He is dangerous because he doesn’t seem to have a conscience that separates good and bad, and his greed for power at any cost, but at the same time, he is completely vulnerable due to his deformity. I have a feeling that he may not be the villain in the end because he is a bit too easily deceived. No, I think it is the captain of the guards who will become most dangerous for the protagonists of the piece.
The novel is gorgeous written, the pacing is quick and keeps the reader’s interest and the plot turns and twists in the most unpredictable ways. I was literally shocked at the end because I did not expect the novel to go where it did. And it went there in a good way. It takes all expectations and shakes it around and presents to you in a shape you didn’t think it came in. There is friendship between girls, a sisterhood of sorts, and a positive portrayal of women. Themes of identity, physical beauty and perhaps even love are present in the novel. Fergus has created a complex world peopled with complex characters that battle both inner demons and physical enemies in their attempt to right so many wrongs. Questions of duty versus desire will have to be answered. What is freedom? Can a person ever be totally free? I don’t know but I am looking forward to finding out how Persephone’s story unfolds. Do I recommend this? Really, I have to spell it out?
Okay fine. I recommend this strong. Go read it.