I really enjoyed this book in spite of some flaws, because it’s fast-moving and suspenseful; it’s a retelling of two Greek myths (Persephone and Hades, and Orpheus and Euridice); and it is incredibly romantic.
The book begins in the Everneath, a world between Earth and Hell for beings who have discovered the secret to eternal life, which necessitates draining the life force from human “Forfeits.” Nikki Beckett, age 17, who narrates the story, is one of these Forfeits. She awakens after one hundred years (which equals six months in “earth” time) in a semi-conscious state after being cocooned with Cole, the boy who took her to the Everneath in order to drain her. Cole is ecstatic that Nikki has miraculously survived the “Feed” and is convinced this means she should help him rule over Hell as his queen. Somehow, though, even in her hazy state, she realizes that she has an option to go back for six months before staying in Hell forever, and against Cole’s protests, she chooses to do so. As bound up as she has been with Cole, she remembers a boy, “with the hands that fit mine just right.” She says “I’m going home” and one of the underworld Shades enters her body through a stab wound and takes her to the surface.
We only gradually learn about how or why Nikki went to Everneath with Cole. After the Feed is over, the next thing we see is Nikki back in high school in Park City, Utah. The kids in school avoid Nikki. She is underweight and looks bad and everyone assumes she was in a drug rehab place for six months. But Jack, the boy she remembered in Hell – who happens to be her former boyfriend – won’t give up on Nikki, in spite of his devastation when she left without a word. And Cole wants Nikki back, and he has much more influence over Nikki than she would like.
The interweaving of Greek mythology into this story (felicitously accomplished by the fact that the Nikki and Jack are both taking an English class whose teacher focuses on myth) adds a little something different to the usual triad of irritating girl loved by perfect boy as well as bad but sexy boy.
I also liked that Nikki takes (almost) full responsibility for her actions and doesn’t blame anyone else. Furthermore, she did not get inexplicably “better” after her stint in the Everneath; she still struggles with the problems that got her there in the first place.
Cole is a good “bad” character – he is nuanced and sympathetic. We don’t know anything about his background though – it would be nice to know “who” he started out as, and how he got to be where he is.
Great book cover, even though, as is common, it has nothing to do with the story.
Nikki wants desperately to come back to the surface so she can explain to everyone who cared about her where she went and why, and maybe undo the hurt a bit. But when she returns, she is totally uncommunicative. You would think she would at least try to talk to her family about it; you would think they would insist she tell them. Nikki knows she only has six months left on earth to do this and yet, she just sits and knits (literally!) ….
Jack, the hero whose face sustained Nikki in hell, is overly perfect. At one point Nikki says:
“I knew…the difference between what I had with Jack and the twisted thing I had with Cole [was that] Jack was real. Cole was a drug, artificial and simulated.”
Well, actually, it seemed to me that Jack was the one who wasn’t real. Cole not only had dimensions, but I also liked the fact that his feelings for Nikki went totally against all of his inclinations and were therefore more flattering and interesting.
[I won’t address the question, however, of why either guy would be so smitten with Nikki as opposed to anyone else – she’s insecure, immature, insensitive and selfish. And after her stint in Everneath she apparently doesn’t look so great either, although there isn’t much indication that she was all that attractive before.]
And then there’s this hardly noticeable aside in the story, but I think worth mentioning: at one point, Nikki pulls into a handicap parking place, because she’s in a hurry and doesn’t care about paying the ticket. To everyone who thinks it’s just about the money, it’s not! Handicapped persons need to be close because it’s difficult for them to navigate distances. I used to take care of someone with Parkinson’s, and any extra distance we had to go was actual Hell, not just Everneath. There really is justification for keeping those spaces available!
Evaluation: There’s a reason the Orpheus/Eurydice story has been popular for thousands of years – it’s a great story, and Ashton does a nice job on this update. The two boys (part of the usual triangle) are both very romantic, and the Persephone/Hades mix into the plot provides great narrative tension.
Note: Everneath is the first in a trilogy.
Published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2012