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Book Review: Girl, Goddess, Queen by Bea Fitzgerald

Book Review: Girl, Goddess, Queen by Bea Fitzgerald

We’ve been treated to many Greek mythology retellings over the past few years, spanning immersive literary novels that capture the eternally classic feel of these tales, to transportive YA fantasy that put an entirely new spin on the stories of old. Yet few have explored the loves, losses and epic tribulations of the gods with such an enjoyable dose of fun and wit as Bea Fitzgerald’s Girl, Goddess, Queen.

As the classic myth goes, Hades fell in love with Persephone and kidnapped her, trapping her in the underworld as his bride. Yet in Fitzgerald’s debut novel, Hades isn’t the fabled abductor. Rather he’s an unwitting accomplice, drawn into Persephone’s reckless scheme when she jumps into hell of her own free will. Having grown up on an island with only nymphs for company, Persephone is headstrong, wild and entirely ill prepared for matrimony. Desperate to flee an arranged marriage to an egotistical godly suitor of her parents’ choosing, she runs to the one place she knows nobody would expect to find her. A place she can hide away for a while until she comes up with a better plan to evade her father’s rage and her mother’s suffocating love.

The King of the Underworld is nothing like Persephone expected, and everything that she’d hoped he’d be too. Like Persephone, Hades hides his true self from the world, playing the ruthless part his subjects and the other gods expect of him, whilst yearning for the things that bring him true happiness (yes, this version of Hades is adorably artistic). He knows what it’s like to be forced into a position you don’t want and never asked for. So in a bid to trick the other gods, Persephone and Hades form a mutually beneficial alliance that will ensure her future safety, whilst maintaining Hades’ notorious reputation. But faking an epic love story to fool history brings with it complications neither of them anticipated, including the very real feelings they begin to have for each other, which become increasingly difficult to turn off when they’re away from their captive audience.

My feelings refuse to bow to my logic. If Hades is feeling anything like this then it’s only a matter of time until we make some stupid, reckless decision – and let’s face it, they’re my speciality.”

Girl, Goddess, Queen is a fantasy rom-com retelling that weaves the classic story with snarky banter, slow burn romance and a feminist slant that sees the legendary goddess discovering her agency, desires and inherent power. As a child, Persephone’s father asked her what she wanted. ‘The world’ was her reply. A good answer for a girl with the world quite literally at her feet. But to her father, Zeus, a wrathful god terrified of having his power usurped, it was the worst possible answer she could have given. Zeus sought to belittle his daughter, but jumping into hell gives Persephone the courage to finally stand up for herself. To say no, when she doesn’t want something. To be unafraid of taking ownership of her own life. Her journey of self-discovery is an empowering fist pump in the air, a massive FU in the face of her father and all the other gods who’d seek to keep her small and subdued. It’s a beautiful thing to read.

But as much as this is a story of a girl downtrodden by her father and smothered by her mother, and how she rises above the confines they put upon her, it’s also a tale of, as Fitzgerald says, “unpacking the ways patriarchy hurts boys” too. Far from the unsympathetic, forbidding kidnapper he’s traditionally been portrayed to be, Hades is a loveable, endearing and creative soul, who eschews the typical bloodthirsty, narcissistic masculine traits of the gods. He doesn’t want or demand anything from Persephone, which she finds difficult to believe. Even as their alliance dissolves into friendship, friendship blurring into something deeper, she stills struggles to understand that he’s not trying to trick or weaken her. Hades likes Persephone for exactly who she is: brave, unrefined, shrewd and, above all else, compassionate. A trait they both share, which makes them the perfect joint rulers of the domain of the dead.

If you’re familiar with YA romantic comedies, you’ll know that they’re often built on a hefty dose of misunderstandings, jumping to conclusions and conflicted characters not voicing aloud how they really feel. That’s all true here, as Persephone and Hades dance around their true feelings, both of them frightened of ruining the special bond they’ve formed. The romance is perfectly paced, complementing rather than overriding the anxieties and expectations that both characters wrestle with throughout the book. Yet the more serious sides of the book – the themes of toxic masculinity and coercive control – never feel too heavy either. It’s a careful line that Fitzgerald balances admirably with a sharp wit and genuine understanding of the simultaneous contemporary and historic issues she’s writing about.

Girl, Goddess, Queen is a thoroughly modern retelling that turns the story of Hades and Persephone completely on its head, breathing new life into the classic mythos. Fun side characters and a hopeful coming-of-age heart make this one of the most entertaining reimaginings in an ever growing list of them. Readers were expecting wonderful things from Bea Fitzgerald’s debut, and it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest.


Girl, Goddess Queen was published by Penguin on 20 July 2023

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