Summary: Aphrodite has chosen Psyche, the most beautiful woman in the world, to be her daughter. She offers to Psyche her own son Eros as a husband, but Eros still suffers the pain of a previous romance and treats the proposal with contempt. Insulted by Eros’s rudeness, Psyche rejects the match, angering Aphrodite and bringing down upon herself the wrath of the goddess. The Oracle at Delphi predicts that, as punishment, Psyche will fall in love with a hideous monster. Even as she awaits her doom, however, Eros realizes that he may have been wrong to reject her. A retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.
Review: Any retelling of a well-known story invites comparison not only to the original tale but also to the other variations published over the years. Destined faces the formidable task, then, of not only proving to readers that it contains a good story told in compelling manner, but also of proving that it possesses an originality and a depth that justifies its addition to the number of retellings already available. Ultimately, the book fails to do either as it never rises above the level of a superficial romance.
The title itself suggests the book means to position itself as an insightful commentary on the nature of love and, yes, destiny, but the plot never delivers. Harrell repeatedly tells her readers how things are meant to be, but her characters and their actions never exemplify the traits ascribed to them. For example, Eros informs his friend that he means to get to know Psyche and that he wants Psyche to get to know him, so that they two will have a solid basis for their relationship. However, Eros has the power to read souls, and thus understands everything about Psyche at a glance; Harrell has written “instalove” even as she claims she wants to avoid it.
One might assume that Psyche will give some perspective to the relationship and rescue it from the trap of “instalove,” but the girl sadly fails to exhibit any behavior that will make readers sympathize with her, even if they cannot look up to her. She initially rejects the physical advances made by Eros (advances he makes the first time he comes to her, despite his professed intent to get to know her), but succumbs within days. Psyche knows nearly nothing about Eros at this point, though she suspects he is evil. Even so, she finds herself “falling in love” with the god because she enjoys his embraces and kisses.
The story is generally morally ambiguous, but the problems created by its uncertainty become even more pronounced at this point. Normally Eros and Psyche are assumed to be married and the marriage is consummated. However, Destined makes no mention of any marriage, not even a future one to be held if Psyche can be wooed. Eros’s intentions toward Psyche remain unclear. Psyche does not seem worried about this, even though one would assume that her status as princess means she learned a certain code of conduct pertaining to men. She readily accepts all Eros’s advances, however, and does not seem inclined at any point to tell him that he might be going too far or to request that they talk about their relationship and where it might be going.
Psyche’s actions are particularly odd because Venus eventually accuses Psyche of having inappropriate relations with her son, and Psyche angrily denies this. However, Psyche and Eros came very close to that point—and were only prevented from reaching it by an unforeseen interruption. Both women seem to accept a certain kind of behavior as moral and virtuous, and Psyche is supposed to be vindicated at this point because she upheld that behavior. The problem is, she didn’t. Not really. So are readers supposed to accept the verdict of the narrative or the verdict given by the actions of Psyche herself?
Psyche’s character remains problematic throughout the book. Eros, who looks into her soul, describes Psyche as a kind, loving person concerned for her family and desirous of doing right. Readers, unfortunately, never see this side of her. Readers see instead a girl who proves secretive, headstrong, impulsive, irrational, and angry. She lashes out at her parents for doing what they perceive as their duty to preserve their kingdom, insults guests in her home, and emulates behavior she had previously deemed underhanded. Eros apparently is looking at a different Psyche.
Looking, in fact, is what Eros does best. He gives a sentence or two to his beloved’s personality, but far more words are spent on what she looks like and what she’s wearing. A good deal of Psyche’s day seems to be spent in getting dressed and otherwise grooming for the appearance of Eros. He even designs dresses for her. Admittedly the story rests on Psyche’s status as the most beautiful woman in the world, but since Psyche acts as the narrator, one would think more of her intelligence and charm would come out.
In the end, characterization proves almost irrelevant to the story. The focus is on the romance; the characters could have been anyone and their flirtations and embraces would have remained the same. Destined does not add anything new to the story of Cupid and Psyche and does not live up to its promise to comment on any themes of importance.
4 thoughts on “Destined by Jessie Harrell”
Good review. Of course I’m sorry to hear that a book fails, especially with so good a myth as Cupid and Psyche, but you did a very good job explaining why it failed. While the myth is romantic, it seems to be about so much more than romance. The story’s potential was only really suggested to me by Lewis’ brilliant Till We Have Faces.
I admit that the entire time I was reading Destined I could not prevent myself from comparing it with Till We Have Faces and that probably counted against the book more than anything. I was expecting the story to talk more about the types of themes Lewis addressed, but instead it seemed merely to use the myth as an easy way to attract readers to the book. I was sorry it failed because Harrell clearly has a gift for writing. Though the book was self-published, you probably wouldn’t think it if you didn’t already know.
I think I’ll give a pass on this and just read Till We Have Faces for the Cupid and Psyche myth.
C. S. Lewis definitely set the bar for retellings of Cupid and Psyche. I almost feel sorry for anyone else who attempts the feat.