Thursday, February 2, 2012

Review: Destined by Jessie Harrell

Before I say a word about Destined, I have a confession to make: when it comes to anything Greek Mythology related I am a total snob and a ruthless critic. I will admit this openly and freely -- I can't help it. I grew up with these myths, they influenced my writing in huge ways, and when I start reading something that is based on them I am generally filled with a mix of excitement and fear.

I often talk about books that have a great idea and fail when it comes to carrying out the concept, lacking the ability to "execute" it. This is very much a matter of opinion, as expectations from one reviewer to another can vary greatly. Well, now that I have a few of you sweating bullets, let me end the charade. Destined is by far the best use of Greek Myth within a modern text that I have ever read. It did not simply match my expectations -- it exceeded them in every possible way. Read on and I will give you all the details. (Hopefully without spoiling the book!)

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
When Psyche receives a prophecy gone horribly wrong, she learns that even the most beautiful girl in Greece can have a hideous future. Her fate? Fall in love with the one creature even the gods fear.

As she feels herself slipping closer into the arms of the prophecy, Psyche must choose between the terrifyingly tender touch she feels almost powerless to resist and the one constant she's come to expect out of life: you cannot escape what is destined.

Retelling a fairy tale or myth is always a strange beast. There are many different things at play. How much homage or authenticity do you want to give the original text or source material? How much do you want to change or make your own? Where's the line that something becomes totally original v.s. where one must question the purpose the author had in deciding to write what they did.

That's the first thing that I must commend Jessie Harrell on: she made calls that felt true to the story she was trying to tell, but at the same time I never had a moment reading Destined where I wanted to yell "What are you doing?!" at the writing. (At Psyche and Eros? Absolutely! But that's as it should be!) 

Jessie took some chances, and I feel that they paid off. The blend of keeping her retelling in ancient Greece and keeping a lot of the situation happening real, mixed with the modern language suited the story very well. So did the alterations to the tale that allowed us to have a better glimpse at Psyche pre-Eros, along with her family and their overall situation. (In the original myth Aphrodite is simply jealous of Psyche's appearance. I absolutely *loved* the way that Jessie blended myths together so that they felt like they had a timeline and were connected and had effected those who took part in them.) 

I also like the fact that Psyche is spirited and is constantly either taking action or actually reacting to what is happening around her. This is really important in a YA novel, and it is a judgement call where making sure to reach out to the modern audience was important. In the original story Psyche is a bit more passive and it was one of my concerns going into this that if it was kept as is it would not work, but if it was changed in the wrong way it would destroy the work. The ability to walk the fine line needed to succeed here shows that Jessie was both very in-tune with the myth she was working with, and with the readers who would be picking her book up. 

The last thing I want to praise is the pacing. The fact that we get to fully explore a story or myth is often the thing that compels me to read a retelling the most, and when someone does something that stays this authentic while still adding their own 'flavor' to it, and I get to linger in a story I already loved and see the characters in that much more vivid detail, I am generally delighted. It's funny, really. It sort of boils down to how a good or bad movie can make people who read a book feel. Some things translate better then others, and in Destined the myth of Psyche and Eros translated very well. 

The Characters: 

Here's where something of this nature lives or dies for me when it comes to Greek Myth. And Jessie nailed it. The Gods could be extremely petty and cruel? Check. Yet they were essentially humans with superior abilities who were just as vulnerable to every other emotion, too? Once again, check. 

As for Psyche and Eros... I felt that Psyche blended the traits she needed to be believable in the setting, while still embodying the qualities that will make modern readers find her relatable and worth cheering for. She is spunky, smart and says what she thinks even when that may not always be in her best interest. Through the pressure her family puts on her to get married (it would bring them tremendous wealth) modern readers may see the pressure they are under to get good grades, have the right friends, etc. Her curiosity, courage and compassion as she faces the consequences of her actions throughout the story make her very compelling and kept me very engaged in what I was reading.

Eros was well done, too. The perfect blend between a cocky young God, full of conceit and arrogance, mixed with a softer more caring side, with a wounded past that made the two sides of his personality make total sense. I loved how Jessie took what was in the myth and was not afraid to add details to it to give it additional layers of depth that really made the character stand out and truly become his own person. For the myth, he is fine as is, but in a book I wondered how someone could make him worth wanting Psyche to be with outside of "Well, duh! He's Eros!". That, by itself, is just not good enough. Especially in YA fiction. Fortunately that's not what we got here. 

The Romance: 

I'm not sure how familiar all of you are with the myth's origins, but essentially Eros (Cupid, for anyone who's sitting here totally lost) is the god of love, while Psyche becomes a goddess of soul mates. Their myth actually parallels the values of each of their specific duties as a deity, and shows the dangers and values of each. The fact that the two unite by the end, *creating* the goddess who presides over actual, really 'true' loyal love, is not an accident. 

With that in mind, I really wanted to see how these two would fall in love and how they would not let the mistakes that others -- and they themselves -- put in front of them would not keep them from being together. Jessie made them earn it, which is as it should be, and I was cheering for them pretty much every step of the way. The fact that we get such a rich look at what happens before the traditional myth begins let me really get a feel for them on their own and made me able to see why they should be together, which was something I was definitely hoping would be addressed. 

In General:

Destined was absolutely fantastic and I am thrilled that I had the chance to read it. I vividly recall wishing that there were books like this when I originally discovered Greek Mythology. I think I was 13 or 14 at the time? I fell head over heels for the characters of the myths, but I always wanted more of them, more from them, more about them. I wanted to see them come fully alive. That's what I feel Jessie Harrell has accomplished here. 

Whether you're obsessed with mythology, looking for a great love story, or perhaps a bit of both, you really can't go wrong with Destined. I'm not a Pythia, but I've got a pretty good feeling that the future for this talented author looks very bright indeed. 


14 comments:

  1. Yay I really liked this one too and i agree about the pacing it was very well done I loved the mythology from it. Glad you enjoyed it! :)

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  2. THANK YOU SO MUCH! This has to be one of my all-time favorite reviews of the novel. ((HUGS))

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  3. @ Giselle: I think it was your blog that I originally saw this on and decided I wanted to read it. It came out or I originally heard about it at all (can't remember which) while I was waiting for Destined by P.C. Cast so I had overlooked it until then. Wanted to read it and be able to say what I thought, since I'd heard yours and you visit often. :)

    @ Jessie: ((HUGS)) Thank *you* for writing such an absolutely marvelous book!! I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what you write in the future. :)

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  4. Glad you loved this one too- I loved it! I am a big fan of all the books on Greek Mythology coming out!

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