Cora: The Unwilling Queen by Amy Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cora Dell is a 17-year-old high school junior who lives with her parents in San Francisco, California. She has the usual compliment of teenage concerns, including whether or not she'll have enough time to finish reading Brave New World and stylistic conflicts with her best friends Joanna and Roxy. (If the trio were the Powerpuff Girls, Cora would be the Blossom, Joanna would be the Bubbles and Roxy would be the Buttercup.) Oh yeah, and she also has super-realistic dreams in which she visits the Underworld and is courted by its unnamed ruler, who wants her to be his wife. In some ways, Cora resembles the mythological Persephone, who was also called Kore in her maiden aspect. Her mother, Deidre, works in a plant conservatory and is a vegan, reminding readers of the plant-loving earth goddess Demeter of classical Greek mythology. Like Persephone, Cora is promised to the Underworld ruler by her father without her mother's knowledge or permission.
The Underworld ruler is never called Hades (or Aidon), and he already has a wife/queen who, when Cora meets her, states that she's not Persephone but started out as a mortal woman just like Cora. The Underworld itself seems to resemble the classical Greek version thereof, a bleak sunless landscape in which the souls of the dead slowly lose their individual identities, although some are better off than others. There seems to be the possibility of moving to a more heaven-like afterlife (perhaps similar to the Elysian Fields), and those in the Underworld seem to be able to die a second death, after which they are completely annihilated. This is the very fate that Cora wishes to avoid for Søren, an Underworld resident whom she comes to care about. In fact, Cora is willing to make an enormous sacrifice for Søren's life; she agrees to marry the Underworld ruler and stay with him for half of the year (the Persephone deal, although in some versions of the myth, Persephone spends only the winter in the Underworld).
I really enjoyed this book, and particularly the way it combines Cora's normal teenage life with her nocturnal (and ultimately more long-term) visits to the Underworld. It's obvious that Cora isn't merely dreaming the Underworld or making it up inside her mind, but it's also not entirely clear what it is that makes her different from other teenage girls, other than the fact that her biological father's an enormous jerk. The novel ends with quite a cliffhanger, with Søren's fate hanging in the balance and Cora not knowing what's going to happen once she becomes queen. (The last page says the conclusion is to come in Summer 2013.) I'd recommend this book for anyone who enjoys mythologically-inspired books like The Lightning Thief (which I haven't read, but which my niece adores - Cora will be passed to her next), The Goddess Test and The Shadow Thieves. I'll be excited to read the conclusion and, perhaps, have some of my questions answered.
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Discloser: I won this book in a contest on Goodreads. I received no other compensation for this review, which represents my own honest opinion.
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Shift by Madison Dunn. $8.99 from Smashwords.com
I'm not sure why it happens, but when I focus just right, I can slow time. Things around me become lighter somehow, and I almost feel the tiny particles of energy spinning inside of them. The thing is, having the ability to transform the world around you isn't all it's cracked up to be -- especially when you are running from the Valencia without any deodorant.