In Neon Gods, erotica author Katee Robert shifts her focus from Disney villains to Greek mythology, a realm that also happens to be overflowing with steamy romance. Today, io9 is revealing the cover and an excerpt that sees heroine Persephone, on the run from Zeus, meeting a dark stranger at the River Styx.
First, here’s a little context so you can see how Robert has updated the classic tale of Hades and Persephone with a modern twist.
Society darling Persephone Dimitriou plans to flee the ultra-modern city of Olympus and start over far from the backstabbing politics of the Thirteen Houses. But all that’s ripped away when her mother ambushes her with an engagement to Zeus, the dangerous power behind their glittering city’s dark facade.
With no options left, Persephone flees to the forbidden undercity and makes a devil’s bargain with a man she once believed a myth...a man who awakens her to a world she never knew existed.
Hades has spent his life in the shadows, and he has no intention of stepping into the light. But when he finds that Persephone can offer a little slice of the revenge he’s spent years craving, it’s all the excuse he needs to help her—for a price. Yet every breathless night spent tangled together has given Hades a taste for Persephone, and he’ll go to war with Olympus itself to keep her close…
A modern retelling of Hades and Persephone that’s as sinful as it is sweet.
Here’s the cover, followed by the excerpt!
Downtown Olympus is just as carefully polished as Zeus’s tower. All the storefronts create a unified style that’s elegant and minimalist. Metal and glass and stone. It’s pretty, but ultimately soulless. The only indicator of what kind of businesses are contained behind the various glass doors are tasteful vertical signs with the business names. The further from the city center, the more individual style and flavor seep into the neighborhoods, but this close to Dodona Tower, Zeus controls everything.
If we marry, will he order clothes for me so that I fit seamlessly in with his aesthetic? Supervise my hair stylist visits to mold me in the image he wants? Monitor what I do, what I say, what I think? The thought makes me shudder.
It takes me three blocks before I realize my footsteps aren’t the only ones I hear. I glance over my shoulder to find two men half a block back. I pick up my pace, and they match it easily. Not quite trying to close the distance, but I can’t shake the sensation of being hunted.
This late, all the shops and businesses in the downtown area are closed. There’s music a few blocks away that must be a bar still open. Maybe I can lose them in there—and get warm in the process.
I take the next left turn, aiming in the direction of the sound. Another look over my shoulder shows only a single man behind me. Where did the other one go?
I get my answer a few seconds later when he appears in the next intersection from my left. He’s not blocking the street, but every instinct I have tells me to stay as far away from him as possible. I veer right, once again heading south.
The further I get from the center of downtown, the more the buildings begin to break away from the cookie-cutter image. I begin to see trash on the street. Several of the businesses have bars on their windows. There are even a foreclosure sign or two taped to dirty doors. Zeus only cares about what he can see, and apparently his gaze doesn’t stretch to this block.
Maybe it’s the cold muddling my thoughts, but it takes me far too long to realize that they’re driving me to the River Styx. True fears clamps its teeth into me. If they corner me against the banks, I truly will be trapped. There are only three bridges between the upper city and the lower city, but no one uses them—not since the final Hades died. Crossing the river is forbidden. If legend is to be believed, it’s not actually possible without paying some kind of terrible price.
And that’s if I even managed to reach a bridge.
Terror gives me wings. I stop worrying about how much my feet hurt in these ridiculously uncomfortable heels. The cold barely registers. There has to be a way to get around my pursuers, to find people who can help.
I don’t even have my fucking phone.
Damn it, I shouldn’t have let emotions get the best of me. If I’d just waited for Psyche to bring me my purse, none of this would be happening… Would it?
Time ceases to have meaning. The seconds are measured in each harsh exhale tearing itself from my chest. I can’t think, can’t stop, am nearly sprinting. Gods, my feet hurt.
At first, I barely register the rushing sound of the river. It’s almost impossible to hear over my own ragged breathing. But then it’s there in front of me, a wet, black ribbon too wide, too fast to swim safely, even if it were summer. In the winter, it’s a death sentence.
I spin around to find the men closer. I can’t quite make out their faces in the shadows, which is right around the time I realize how quiet the night’s gotten. The sound of that bar is barely a murmur in the distance.
No one is coming to save me.
No one even knows I’m here.
The man on the right, the taller of the two, laughs in a way that has my body fighting off shudders that have nothing to do with the cold. “Zeus would like a word.”
Had I imagined this situation couldn’t get worse? Foolish of me. These aren’t random predators. They were sent after me like dogs retrieving a runaway hare. I hadn’t really thought he’d stand idly by and let me escape, had I? Apparently so, because shock steals what little thought I have left. If I stop running, they will collect me and return me to my fiancé. He will cage me. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I won’t get another opportunity to escape.
I don’t think. I don’t plan.
I kick off my heels and run for my life.
Behind me, they curse, and then their footsteps pound. Too close. The river curves here, and I follow the bank. I don’t even know where I’m headed. Away. I have to get away. I don’t care what it looks like. I’d throw myself into the icy river itself to escape Zeus. Anything is better than the monster who rules upper city.
Cypress Bridge rises up in front of me, an ancient stone bridge with columns that are larger around than I am and twice as tall. They create an arch that gives the impression of leaving this world behind.
I ignore the yell and plunge through the arch. It hurts. Fuck, everything hurts. My skin stings as if being scraped raw by some invisible barrier, and my feet feel like I’m sprinting on glass. I don’t care. I can’t stop now, not with them so close. I barely notice the fog rising around me, coming off the river in waves.
I’m halfway across the bridge when I catch sight of the man standing on the other bank. He’s wrapped in a black coat with his hands in his pockets, fog curling around his legs like a dog with its master. A fanciful thought, which is only further confirmation that I am not okay. I’m not even in the same realm as okay.
“Help!” I don’t know who this stranger is, but he’s got to be better than what pursues me. “Please help!”
He doesn’t move.
My steps falter, my body finally beginning to shut down from the cold and fear and strange slicing pain of crossing this bridge. I stumble, nearly going to my knees, and meet the stranger’s eyes. Pleading.
He looks down at me, still as a statue draped in black, for what feels like an eternity. Then he seems to make a choice: lifting a hand, palm extended toward me, he beckons me across what remains of the River Styx. I’m finally close enough to see his dark hair and beard, to imagine the intensity of his dark gaze as the strange buzzing tension in the air seems to relax around me, allowing me to push through those final steps to the other side without pain. “Come,” he says simply.
Somewhere in the depths of my panic, my mind is screaming that this is a terrible mistake. I don’t care. I dredge up the last bit of my strength and sprint for him.
I don’t know who this stranger is, but anyone is preferable to Zeus.
No matter the price.
Excerpt from Katee Robert’s Neon Gods reprinted by permission. Copyright Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Katee Robert’s Neon Gods is out June 1, 2021, but you can pre-order a copy here.
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