A few weeks before I left Australia for Greece, I came across Tonya Alexandra’s Nymph, Book One of The Love Oracles. Being one to judge a book by its cover, I fell in love and then I fell deep deep deeply in love with the blurb:
An Idyllic Greek Island
A fallen nymph
A Mortal Boy
Merope, a beautiful but faded star nymph, is banished to Earth for displeasing the gods. She tries to fit in, go to school and live a normal “human” life. And then she meets Lukas. But relationships between goddesses and men are forbidden.
Will their love grow? Or will Merope and Lukas feel the wrath of the gods?
I swooned before I opened the first page. However, I was patient and did not start reading Nymph until I was on a ferry leaving Piraeus heading for Poros, a small island in the Argosaronic gulf near the Peloponnese. The ferry ride to Poros is magical. I sit on the upper deck, the wind is gentle, the sea is calm and the ferry passes by container ships and yachts as it starts its journey first to Aegina, then the volcanic peninsula of Methana before arriving in Poros, an island separated from the mainland only by a 200 metre wide strait. Along the whole way, the sea meets the mountains, the diffuse light filters through the clouds as I am quickly immersed in the story of Merope and Lukas.
Merope, daughter of Pleione and Atlas, is a star nymph – making her immortal as she will live as long as her star shines in the sky. Merope has been stalked by Orion for many centuries. Orion is handsome but creepy, depicted as your slimy, leather clad lothario. Merope turned down Orion when he asks her to be his consort and Zeus exiles her from Olympus. She is sent to live on a Greek island as a teenager with her uncle Prometheus as her chaperone. Merope is a celestial creature but she has always felt that she is not as good as her brighter nymph sisters. She has an incredible beauty, so much so that she needs to transform herself to be more ugly, more faulted, like a mortal, for her time on earth.
Merope has a chance meeting with Lukas, a seventeen year old boy who lives on the island where Merope and Prometheus have set up a home. They both fall for each other instantly, their attraction zings on the pages. But Merope is highly aware that she is not to have relations with mortals, for a double standard is at play with Olympians whereby male gods and demi-gods can toy with female mortals but female Olympians are expected to save their favours only for gods. Merope starts at the local high school and Lukas is also there where she finds herself pursued by him and she is drawn to this mortal, ugly (by god standards) boy, his allure confounding her. She is keenly aware of the differences in their age as she is a celestial creature who is thousands of years old (suck on that Edward and Bella age objectors) but Lukas is not. Merope is juvenile in her own way, as she is navigating a new culture and needs to lie to the friends that she makes due to her own circumstances. Merope also befriends Eleni, Lukas’s childhood friend who is in love with his older brother Dimitri. Eleni teaches Merope about life on her island, believing that Merope had been brought up in a cult-like community and was unfamiliar with modern ways. Having given Merope a novel with an intense love affair, Merope observed:
She’d never read such heart wrenching material. The mortal couple loved each other physically and emotionally. It was so much more powerful than the relationships she witnessed on Olympus.
For her, relationships were compulsory and an obligation and not intense. Merope likes the earthly concept of love, “that you could be attracted to someone regardless of their physical beauty.”
As Merope comes to understand the ways of mortals, she is also warned by Zeus and creepy Orion to keep away from humans. Even her mother, whom she has not seen for centuries, appears to her from the sea and warns her off the earth boy, saying that he was off limits to her. This happens during a peculiar scene in which Lukas had become blind drunk (a touch of Australian culture rather than Greek, I think) during an 18th birthday celebration and vomits much to her bafflement. But this does not dissuade her from Lukas and several scenes later they finally kiss sending Zeus into a fit of anger.
Her friend and demi-god Heracles is sent to act as an extra chaperone for Merope. Herc is buff. Herc is a hot guy and you at first feel that he is all smarm and designer labels and cashed up arrogance but he too is a loyal friend to Merope who hurts him in her need for Lukas. Lukas eventually realises that Merope is not like himself. Merope says of him:
I can feel that you’re alive – the mortality running through your veins, your desperation for every minute of life; it’s incredibly intoxicating
This was like a Zorba the Greek moment for me. This intense moment where I felt that every harried, rushed moment where I try to fill my day with as much as I can possibly manage is justified. This intense need to live life to its fullest for we are not celestial creatures.
I loved this book. I loved Tonya Alexander’s depiction of modern Greece, of Greek teenagers that closely reflected the behaviour and attitudes of the Greeks I know. I was wary at first, as she is an Australian author, that Australian and Anglo mores would be more evident. I was pleasantly surprised. I loved the way gods and events are weaved into the psyche of this book. It was just the way Greeks, without realising they are doing it, weave Greek mythology into their everyday conversations with stories of love and narcissism, over-indulgence and cunning commonly told in parallel with real events.
This book had everything I love in it. There is a wonderful sense of Greece through the description of light, the sea and the land. There is youthfulness and fun and kefi. There is an AWESOME AWESOME dance scene where I felt the pulsing and pumping of the crowd. And there was even a vomit scene. This book is about the relationships that Lukas and Merope contend with the way they stand their ground against people that want them to be malleable and agreeable to the detriment of themselves. Love and happiness are thwarted whenever there are a multitude Olympian gods involved and Lukas and Merope have much to contend with throughout this story. But most importantly of all this book is about love and romance and finding the right person for yourself. It is a heart clenching, pulse racing romance. I adored it. I highly recommend it. And I now anticipate the next books in the series.