Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Underworld, by Meg Cabot (13th review for The 2012 TBR Pile Reading Challenge)

Here's my thirteenth review for this
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Goodreads Synopsis
Seventeen-year-old Pierce Oliviera isn't dead.

Not this time.

But she is being held against her will in the dim, twilit world between heaven and hell, where the spirits of the deceased wait before embarking upon their final journey.

Her captor, John Hayden, claims it's for her own safety. Because not all the departed are dear. Some
are so unhappy with where they ended up after leaving the Underworld, they've come back as Furies, intent on vengeance... on the one who sent them there and on the one whom he loves...

My Review
Cabot continues her fascinating retelling of the Greek myth of Persephone in this second installment of her Abandon trilogy.  John Hayden, the Lord of the Underworld, once again whisks Pierce Oliviera off to his dimly-lit kingdom.  This time, however, she's alive...  Although she does love him, Pierce is once more dismayed to find herself in the same apparently inevitable circumstances.  John tells her that he had a very good reason for taking her away from Isla Huesos, the island where Pierce and most of her family now live.  (This island is really Key West, but the author never uses this name in the novel, preferring to use this rather macabre one; it means "Island of Bones".)  The reason for this current abduction, John explains, is that there are Furies after Pierce.    Furies are the souls of dead people, who became evil when John disappointed them; they will stop at nothing to kill Pierce, and he wants to keep her safe.

According to the Myths Encyclopedia, the Furies were "...female spirits of justice and vengeance.  They were also called the Erinyes (angry ones).  Known especially for pursuing people who had murdered family members, the Furies punished their victim by driving them mad.  When not punishing wrongdoers on earth, they lived in the underworld and tortured the damned."  This website goes on to explain that "According to some stories, they were sisters born from the blood of Uranus, the primeval god of the sky... In other stories, they were the children of Nyx (night)." 

According to another Wikipedia article, Erinyes, the Furies were "...female chthonic deities of vengeance."  (In light of this, it's interesting that Cabot frequently refers to John as 'a death deity'; in other words, a god of death.)

The author has obviously transformed the Furies into the souls of people -- whether male or female -- who want revenge exclusively on John.  Since he is no longer mortal, they seek this revenge through hurting or killing Pierce.  Still, they do retain the character of frightening, relentless seekers of vengeance that they have in the Greek myths.
In this second novel, we meet some fascinating new characters -- Mr. Graves (pun intended, I'm sure), Mr. Liu, Frank, and Henry, who's only about 10 years old.  They were once shipmates of John's on a doomed vessel called the 'Liberty', which was lost at sea during a hurricane in the year 1846...
This novel brings the reader more details regarding John's background, details that he would have preferred Pierce not know - at least, not for a very long time.  Thanks to Mr. Smith, the sexton at the Isla Huesos cemetery, Pierce begins to find out about them, and eventually learns John's deep, dark secret, of which he's deeply ashamed.
As these details surface, it also becomes apparent that some of the island's residents are not really the upstanding citizens they pretend to be.  Furthermore, Pierce's Uncle Chris is somehow connected to some illegal activities in the past, and this has affected her cousin, Alex, who is Chris's son. 
Once she finds out that her cousin's life is in danger, Pierce knows that she has to ask John to take her back to Isla Huesos to warn and possibly rescue Alex.  John is adamantely against doing so because of the risk to Pierce's life, but finally gives in.
As the plot develops, Cabot reveals the details of John's past, and Pierce finds that she has fallen even more in love with him.  Things move more slowly in this second novel, until the action suddenly picks up toward the end.  It's as if the author had decided to peel a literary onion, so to speak, in a rather leisurely manner.  Paradoxically, this kept me riveted.  I suppose I was as curious as Pierce to find out more about John. 
The romance in this second instalment is not quite as intense as it is in the first one, Abandon, although the story opens with Pierce having a nightmare in which she helplessly watches John drown, while desperately trying to save him.  Still, there are moments of tenderness between them.  They are truly inseparable, and Cabot reveals the strong bond that holds them together.  She does this in little ways.  I found it especially endearing when John grudgingly admitted to Pierce that he had implemented some 'improvements' in his Underworld duties based on suggestions she made to him in the first book.  But then, John is such an appealing hero... In spite of some of his behavior toward Pierce in the previous novel, he does love her deeply, and is, paradoxically, very vulnerable to being rejected by her.  If she were to push him away in earnest, he would probably waste away, or whatever would happen to someone who has already died once.
This could have been a frightening novel, but in Cabot's hands, it never descends to the level of horror.  It's dark in the sense that much of it does take place in a strange afterlife setting that's gloomy and depressing.  (Indeed, the author has quotes from Dante's Inferno at the beginning of every chapter.)  It's also dark in the sense that John is tormented by his past actions, and Pierce is actually torn between life and death: should she stay with John, or go back to Isla Huesos, to be with her mother, and have a normal life?  She really can't, though, because of the Furies and what they could do to her, which, as John cautions her, could be worse than death...but she would love to return, just as much as she wants to stay with John, even if she hates his domain.  All of this angst creates a psychological tension that pervades the novel, raising as well many interesting questions about the ultimate meaning of life and death.  These questions are as much a part of this retelling as the original myth is. 
I would add, in closing, that Underworld is a mesmerizing experience, a totally unique journey into an ancient, yet modern world - the world of myth, which has such deep connections to the unconscious mind. 
I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves Greek mythology, as well as the feeling of mystery and attraction, the strange pull of the unknown, and what may lie beyond the veil of this life.  This is a highly imaginative version of the myth that will certainly not disappoint!

Purchase Links:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Meg Cabot


  1. This books sounds as it has a very creative and engaging plot. It also love it when an author makes ties to mythological and literary works that are important to our culture.

    By co-incidence I just reacquainted myself with the Persephone myth as the book that I am reading now makes also some references to it. All this stuff is so very interesting!

  2. Hi, Brian!

    Oh, I LOVE Greek mythology!! I have to reacquaint myself with the Persephone myth, since it was many years ago that I first read it. This novel has a fascinating take on the myth! I ADORED it!!

    What a coincidence that you're reading a book that also mentions this myth. There's another young adult novel that deals with this myth, but I haven't read it yet. It's titled "Everneath", and the author's nname is Brodi Ashton. I wonder what HER take is like...hope to find out sometime not too far off in the future! Lol.

    Thanks for commenting!! : )


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