A Writer's Journey

June 17, 2013

Book Analysis: “Goddess of Spring” by P.C. Cast

This has to be record—to have a book analysis so soon after another one, right? And it’s the second book in the Goddess Summoning series by P.C. Cast.

In “Goddess of Spring,” Carolina “Lina” Santoro is the proud owner of her own bakery. But due to some shady tactics by her accountant, Lina is in danger of losing it. So as she tries to save her business, she comes in contact with Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest. The goddess switches her daughter, Persephone, with Lina. She sends Lina down to the Underworld to give the dead their own goddess to boost their morale while Persephone saves Lina’s bakery. Down in the Underworld, Lina does improve morale—especially Hades’. The two begin to fall in love.

WARNING: SPOILERS!

I am going to paraphrase myself from my Goodreads review for this book: Everything I found wrong with Goddess of the Sea has been corrected in Goddess of Spring. But things I liked about Goddess of the Sea were not carried over into Goddess of Spring.

In Goddess of the Sea, I complained about the romance. Here, it’s better handled. There is more of a slow burn and the characters don’t rush into sex. Cast develops the relationship between Lina and Hades, so it feels natural.

Hades, as a character and a love interest, is more fleshed out than Dylan. And he’s more interesting. Dark and brooding, he’s also sensitive. He’s also muscle bound and impeccably dressed. Yes, he does sound like a cliché romance hero. But something about Cast’s writing elevates him to so much more. Or maybe it’s just because he’s better than Dylan.

But surprisingly, it felt fitting for the God of the Dead. Hades is isolated from the gods, it would make sense he would not feel comfortable amongst them. Though the reason he feels such does push him into woobie territory. He loves differently from the other gods, not interested in dalliances. Hades wants true love, a soul mate to stay with him for eternity. So the other gods and goddesses mock him for it. Well, that may be in his own head. Demeter and Apollo seem certain that Hades views love the same way they do. I felt making Hades the awkward kid at the party who was shy around girls was a bit weird.

It would probably have been better achieved by making the stoic Hades difficult for the other goddesses to seduce. And so they just decide to leave him alone. Maybe he finds them silly and vain which is why he is so cold to them. He could grow even more to love Persephone or struggle a bit with his feelings because of this history. More on arcs later when we get to our heroine.

Also good is the setting. One of my complaints about “Goddess of the Sea” was about how P.C. Cast wasn’t clear about where C.C. ended up once in Undine’s body. Medieval Wales? An alternate reality? This time, Demeter differentiates between our world and the world of the gods’. And there is uniformity. Every god and goddess has their Greek name. (Though in the Italian cookbook Lina uses at the start of the book, it should be Ceres not Demeter). It’s much better.

Her description of the setting has improved as well. In “Goddess of the Sea,” I didn’t feel like Cast had captured medieval Wales. Here, Cast does better because she has to create Hades’ realm. I feel she suffers from a problem even I have to try to fight: Familiarity. She doesn’t really describe Lina’s home town as well as the Underworld. But the description of the Underworld is gorgeous. It paints a good picture and serves as a good setting. Color schemes—blacks, purples, whites.

Some of the side characters are well done, but that wasn’t really a problem in “Goddess of the Sea.” Hades’ trusted servant Iapis and the newly dead Eurydice are good side characters. Even the spin Cast puts on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is mostly good. The one problem I have will be dealt with later.

As for Lina’s employees in the bakery…they aren’t fleshed out. Dolores is just there and Anton is a walking gay stereotype. While there are people out there who are that flamboyant, it’s his only character aspects. And while we are told these are Lina’s best friends, their behavior makes that a bit suspect. Unlike in “Goddess of the Sea,” Ms. Cast gives us glimpses of Persephone-as-Lina’s life. And Persephone makes some drastic changes in Lina’s personality and life. They don’t seem to make any remark on it and, in fact, seem to prefer this version of Lina.

Even Lina comments on it. When she did, my first thought was: “Then you should get some new friends!” Lina decides to keep up everything Persephone did, not because she wants to but because she thinks her friends want her to. That’s not a very good reason to change.

And now we come to my main problem with “Goddess of Spring.” Lina, our “heroine.” What is it? She has no real character arc. In the beginning, she’s a woman who might lose her bakery due to financial mismanagement. In the end, she doesn’t do anything to save it. Persephone does. Lina just has to go down to the Underworld and be seen as Persephone. No problems of her own to solve. Ms. Cast does not set up these books like traditional romances, which is not a slam against her. Writing outside the box is to be applauded.

But the problem is that it sometimes doesn’t work. And that’s the case here. We are told—later on—about Lina’s love life. About her divorce and how she had given up on finding love again. It would’ve helped to see this in the first third of the novel. To see her journey from such a woman to one who wants Hades. That’s what a character arc is!

Along with the lack of growth for Lina, the story has very little tension. There is only so much a will they-won’t they can sustain. Especially in this case. Ms. Cast likes to head hop. The readers know both characters have an attraction to the other. So it isn’t a question of “Will they?” but “When will they?” There’s nothing for Lina to lose. Nothing for her to overcome. She doesn’t have much of a struggle until she wants to tell Hades the truth.

In “Goddess of the Sea,” CC pretended to have amnesia to cover for any knowledge gaps she had. It did arouse some suspicions, especially when she let her temper get the better of her. But here, Lina has a failsafe. She has a database of information she can tap into whenever she has a question. There is never a moment where she has a serious stumble—any she has are small enough for Hades to wave off as “Persephone is young and unfamiliar with the Underworld.”

What might’ve helped is an antagonist, like “Goddess of the Sea” had. Someone to challenge Lina. At first, it seemed Apollo could be this. He is presented as one of Persephone’s former lovers. Lina-as-Persephone blows him off in favor of his horses. Apollo is surprised but never suspicious.  And he could’ve been. Later in the story, a minor character is introduced with ties to Apollo. The character’s purpose is just to make Lina-as-Persephone look even better. But the character could’ve been a spy, reporting back to Apollo in some manner. Gathering information about Lina-as-Persephone’s odd behavior, he could’ve unmasked her publically.

Because as it seems, she doesn’t have much to lose. The stakes aren’t high enough to make her “liar revealed” very dramatic. Yes, Hades rejects her. But we don’t see how anyone else reacts, namely the spirits who were tricked by Lina-as-Persephone as well. And their reaction is a bit…unusual when we do find out (later) what it is. They do not feel betrayed. In fact, they are belligerent to Persephone when she goes to the Underworld after the switch because she isn’t Lina.

And there is the last problem with Lina—she’s pretty much a Mary Sue. In fact, I ran her through the Mary Sue litmus test and she got a 45, which is no surprise. She has no true flaws. What do I mean by “true flaws”? These are what I call flaws that hinder the character or something he or she actively has to overcome. The closest thing to a “true flaw” Lina has is her pessimism. But it doesn’t truly hold her back or cause her to screw up. It just makes her hesitant.

Lina doesn’t make many mistakes—except for trusting the wrong accountant, which puts her in the predicament leading to the swap. So, I guess, Lina-as-Persephone doesn’t make mistakes. Any she makes are never really her fault. Orpheus uses his music to enchant her into granting his wish though Eurydice has no desire to return to a husband we learn was possessive. (This is the new take on Orpheus and Eurydice). Hades had let her make this decision after she challenged one of his but she earns his respect because she fixes the problem. Which isn’t a bad set up, but I’d like it better if the excuse of Opheus’ magical music hadn’t been used here. If Lina-as-Persephone goofed on her own and then tried to rectify her mistake, it would’ve been character growth.

I’d probably also lose the special connection with animals Lina has as well. It really served no purpose and went into realms of ridiculousness very quickly. Especially as all the animals acted like dogs.

I’m not sure if I’ll read the rest of the series, though the books remain on my Goodreads’ “To Read” shelf. The excerpt for the third book wasn’t appealing to me. But I’m not sure if it was boring or if I was still turned off from some of the things in this book. But Ms. Cast’s books seem to stand on their own, so I might be able to skip it. I’ll see.

goddessofspring

Write 53k update:

For week 4, I wrote 1478 words for “The Conference House.” This brings my summer total so far to 7371.

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