Her Dark Wings is a modern day YA retelling of the story of Persephone, in a world where Greek gods are still very much around. Corey and Bree’s friendship has always been unbreakable. Or so Corey thought, until Bree betrays her in the worst way possible, and then Bree’s sudden death leaves Corey heartbroken and furious. But the Underworld calls to Corey too: enraptured by the passionate Furies, she is taken to the realm of a god who is unyielding, cold and irritatingly arrogant.
We chatted with Melinda on creating this imaginative world:
What was the most enjoyable part when imagining a world where Olympians are still around?
Definitely exploring the possibilities of what it would mean to have semi-active deities, especially the Greek ones, who were notorious for interfering with mortals, around in the modern world. It opens up a whole world of transformations and dangers and bargains and tricks; the Greek gods liked to mess with humans, it seems they thought about humans almost as often as humans thought of them. So, there’s a kind of push-pull balance to it (though it’s obviously weighted in the Gods’ favour), almost a symbiosis, and it was fun to play with that.
And how did you balance between having a modern setting and keeping the ancient rituals?
I guess the same way religious people in the modern age manage to balance their faith with life outside of it! We have smartphones and AI home assistants and drones, but Christian funeral and wedding rites are largely unchanged from a much older time; many people in the UK celebrate Christmas and Easter, but outside of those they don’t go to church, or actively worship the Christian God. That’s the environment I wanted to evoke; that Corey lives in a time where religion is almost “optional”, where, save for the big occasions, it’s mostly not thought of – until it is. Just like in our world, when people pray for the sick, or the missing, or a miracle, Corey doesn’t think about the Gods until she’s forced to by circumstance.
What references did you use when building your world?
To begin, I wrote only what I thought I knew. This is my first time really playing in someone else’s sandbox, and the Persephone myth is so well known and loved, so I wanted to be sure that the first draft was my work, my world, and not a composite of historical fact and other versions of the myth. It was only when I had my first draft solid in my head, when I felt like I could walk the Island and know it, know Corey, Hades, Hermes and the Furies, and navigate my imagined Underworld, that I started to check my thinking against Ancient Greek customs, history and lifestyle, and the wider myths, and began fleshing them out and seeding them in it. I wanted it to feel as if it was an alternate timeline, one where instead of Christianity coming to the UK, the Greek Gods did instead, but science, technology, and humanity, progressed largely along the same lines as they have in this world. And so it’s the same, but different.
We began with the myth of Hero and Leander being taught in school. Which Greek myth do you think should be taught in schools now?
The problem is, there are so many different versions of most of them, that it would make for a confusing and argumentative time if they were crammed into a narrow school syllabus! It’s not like Shakespeare, where we have his actual texts and they’re almost verbatim, most of what we have of Greek myth is rewritten, translated, rewritten, translated, rewritten translated word-of-mouth that might not even originate where we think it does. Which is great for a novelist writing a modern AU version of one, but less good for teachers and exam boards and pupils being graded according to a strict set of criteria. I think learning them at Uni is probably better, where there is at least some room for debate and alternates.
Was it difficult to adapt Hades and Persephone’s story for the YA audience?
It was interesting to do it without making it steamy! When I was looking at other versions of the story, a lot more of them focused heavily on the romance side of things, and I didn’t want to write that. This is the story of Persephone’s journey to becoming Queen of the Underworld, with a side-helping of Hades, not a torrid, seductive romance where Persephone is wooed despite herself. My Persephone makes a real, considered choice to return to the Underworld and take up her mantle as its Queen, independently – in fact, my Hades insists upon it.
The portrayal of the Furies is particularly interesting. Why did you decide to let the Furies have such a prominent role in Her Dark Wings?
I needed something that was dark, but not evil, to allow Corey to explore her darker side in the Underworld before she makes her final choice, and the Furies felt perfect for that. What they do can seem cruel, vicious even, but that they can only act against the accused – a crime has to be committed – tied into the larger themes of justice and revenge and what it means to forgive and atone that I wanted personally to explore in the book. I also wanted Corey to have friends and allies in the Underworld that were as messy as she was, and again, the Furies, in their bitterness and need for revenge, are exactly that. What makes Corey different is by the end of the book, she’s worked through it. Although, the Furies almost have, too.
Anger is a main theme in Her Dark Wings and many teenagers are often angry with the world. How do you think Her Dark Wings can help them understand the balance between anger and hatred?
I’m not sure it’s supposed to help them understand it! I don’t write books like that, I don’t write books, or want to write books, that deliberately teach lessons or come with a prepackaged moral message – I believe strongly that every reader, regardless of age, brings their own things to a book, and takes away their own things too, according to their experiences and needs. All I want is to write stories that make that one, isolated, lonely person feel like less of a freak because they see someone as messy and flawed as they are in a book, and see them making it out OK, on their own terms.
Get your copy of Her Dark Wings here.