REVIEW: Captive in the Underworld by Lianyu Tan

In the land of the dead, Queen Hades’ word is law. Hades gets what she wants–always–and what she wants is a certain goddess of the springtime. Innocent Persephone chafes beneath her mother’s hawkish gaze and mercurial temper. Demeter has rebuffed all her daughter’s suitors, but she is not yet satisfied; she strives to crush Persephone’s spirit. Still, when Hades pulls her into the dark realm of the underworld, Persephone longs for the world above, even if it means an eternity under her mother’s thumb. With her tears and pleas for freedom ignored by pitiless Hades, Persephone must learn to satisfy her keeper in all ways, lest she suffer the consequences. And though she cannot deny that something blooms within her, something forbidden, Persephone despairs of ever feeling the sun upon her skin once more. No matter the cost, Hades intends to keep her. Forever.

Warnings: Depictions of parental and spousal abuse, depictions of misogyny, noncon, dubcon, violence, incest

Category: F/F

Captive in the Underworld is a dark lesbian romance novel that retells the classic Greek myth of Hades and Persephone, but with several twists. In this version of the story, Hades is a goddess. It’s a genderbent rendition that gives us a truly delightful and sensual take on the old story of Persephone being lured into the Underworld, being bound by the consumption of pomegranate seeds, and the origin of the winter seasons. As a romance it is quite a dark one, although it steadily builds its way towards that happily ever after. I was given a free copy for review purposes, all opinions here are my own and completely impartial.

This is a supernatural romance story, with magic and fantastical backdrops like the Underworld and Mount Olympus. It does follow a lot of the tropes of this genre; a sinister and overbearing love interest, abduction, slowly developing relationships and the exploration of a frightening new world. These are all tropes that I absolutely adore, and the author works with them very very well, and it creates quite the satisfying read. What I did find especially interesting in this version of the Hades/Persephone story is that Persephone’s mother, Demeter, is depicted as quite abusive. One assumes that themes of fantasy abuse will be present in Persephone’s relationship with Hades, but the parental abuse she suffers from Demeter is quite a bit more upsetting in this book. I haven’t seen that take on Demeter’s character before, and I thought it was an interesting direction to go in the narrative since it helps to ease the transition from hating to loving Hades, as the real villain of the story is in fact Demeter herself. This isn’t a spoiler by the way; it’s pretty apparent from page one that Demeter is awful, and that colours all of the rest of the story, from Hade’s actions to Persephone’s feelings on self worth.

Persephone is, here, a very innocent and naïve character. She has been kept ignorant by her controlling mother, never allowed to grow into independence despite her development into womanhood, and as such she often does come off quite childish in how she reacts to situations and the world around her. There is something truly charming about her as a lead, and you want to see her succeed and come into her own, but there are times when Persephone’s lack of presence of mind can be a little much. Still, despite this innocence, there is an underlying backbone to her, a strength of will that only needs a little nurturing to see it blossom. Conversely, Hades is the epitome of a dominating power fantasy, and I was head over heels in love with her. She was everything I wanted her to be in this kind of a story, frightening and passionate all at once, but also with a more vulnerable side to her. The way the two of them interact was perfect, and I loved every scene that they shared, and the gradual development of their relationship from something of a very one sided nature to something more mutually respectful.

As this is Greek mythology, all of the worldbuilding and lore centers around this mythology. The political machinations of the gods and goddesses, the mechanics of how the Underworld works vs the Overworld, the domains of the gods and goddesses, their history and their lives. It’s really quite a lovely and wonderfully crafted exploration of mythology and you can tell that the author has done a lot of research into these myths and stories. Decades to centuries pass over the course of the story, showcasing the longevity of the characters and their station above this mortal realm, observers watching the comparatively minuscule lives of their human charges. As this particular story is however at least in part meant to be an origin story for the changing of the seasons, with the earth mourning for the loss of Persephone during the winter months, I would have liked to see a bit more exploration of that aspect. Persephone’s power and abilities are wonderfully touched on, but not the unique relationship she has to nature that would cause the earth itself to grieve her absence.

I really loved the sex in this book. A lot of lesbian novels tend towards being soft and sweet, so I adore to read one that is every bit as dramatic, and every bit as filled with angst and emotional turbulence, as any M/F or M/M novel. Many recent, modern takes on the Hades/Persephone tale, like the popular Lore Olympus, have envisioned their relationship as one of equals, or with Persephone wielding more of the dominance over a shy Hades. A sweet and wholesome romance. Not so in this tale. This is a noncon to con novel, so if that isn’t your thing then be warned. It’s a more traditional interpretation, and I adored this brutally ruthless Hades and her dedication to her pursuit of the sweet and innocent Persephone. She was fearsome, powerful, and authoritative, and the sex scenes are thick with power exchange and D/s. I can only wish there was even more of that brutality showcased; very early on it is rather apparent that Hades has a sexual sadism streak a mile wide, but it isn’t indulged quite as much as it could have been. I would have dearly loved to see her wreck Persephone entirely in a lovemaking session, but I truly did appreciate the dedication to dominance and control even during sex that Hades carries herself with. Persephone’s gradual discovery of her own sexuality is also lovingly rendered and it was just a joy to watch unfold. This is likely the hottest lesbian romance novel I have had the pleasure of reading.

All in all I loved this book as a beautiful example of classic dark romance. Getting to see well loved tropes but retooled for a lesbian pairing was wonderful, and I adored this take on Hades. This will be a must read if you want a lesbian novel that has a little more kick to it, if you want that sweet sweet emotional turmoil and captive to lover plotline. Gorgeous novel, highly recommend.

Have you read Captive in the Underworld? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Captive in the Underworld by Lianyu Tan

  1. Really enjoyed this, great recommendation. As for showing more of the sadistic side of Hades, I can understand why the story holds back. There are really two audiences for this, the one that wants it a bit more sweet and on the romantic side and those who like it rougher, and the second audiences (IMHO) pales in size to the first one.


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