Once in a while, I check in with the paranormal romance subgenre. Most times, I conclude I’m the wrong reader and move on. What makes the check-in worthwhile is that there are books out there like Laura Anne Gilman’s Heart of Briar (which I reviewed here), books that use the conventions of paranormal romance to do something surprising, something stranger or more complex than the usual spectacle of exogamy-as-extreme-sport.
Cursed, the first volume in S.J. Harper’s Fallen Siren series, promises a bit more strangeness and depth than the average paranormal romance does. Harper’s heroine is a Siren, and it turns out there’s more to the Sirens’ myth than we all remember from reading Homer in high school. According to several actual ancient sources, the Sirens were Persephone’s companions and for their failure to save Persephone from Hades, Demeter cursed them. The Ancient Greek and Roman versions of the story disagree about the precise nature of the curse, which is just the sort of wiggle room modern writers love.
Since S. J. Harper is the pen name for a team of established romance writers, their version of the Sirens’ curse is that, until the Sirens have rescued enough innocents from abduction to satisfy Demeter for the loss of her daughter, they cannot die no matter what they suffer and they can never know love without losing the beloved. Losing in the worst possible ways. Harper’s interpretation of Demeter is the winter goddess of the barren Earth, all wrath and vengeance. As when the mythic Demeter would have allowed all humanity to starve while she went on strike, this Demeter has no qualms about destroying innocent men to torment the fallen goddesses who love them.
Do you sense that it’s a problem when the villainous dea ex machina in reverse is more interesting than the protagonists who get most of the time on stage? Yes, that would be the mismatch between book and reader showing. Or it might be an actual weakness of the book, but I don’t have the right readerly dopamine receptors to get romance novels, so I can’t be sure how its merits would look to a reader who does.