Review — Lore Olympus (chapters 1-75)

This romance is heading for Hades...or is it?

Pink Persephone on a horse on the bottom, on the top blue Hades looks down at her

Overview

Synopsis When young Persephone moves to the big city of Olympus, she meets the god of the Underworld and strikes up an interesting relationship with him. An updated retelling of the classic myth.

Author Rachel Smythe

Artist Rachel Smythe
Genre Fantasy, Romance

Length 382 pages per print volume

Release Date November 2, 2021 (print edition)

Lore Olympus is the first WebToon (app-published comic series) to win an Eisner award. It retells the story of Hades and Persephone with a modern context. It’s such an old tale, but Rachel Smythe breathes life into the classic, creating an almost completely original take on the narrative.

A determined blue man and woman and a pink girl looking nervous

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Some of the book takes place in the Underworld, and the dead attack the protagonist.

Language: Frequent language including h***, d***, b****, a**, and b*****d. Moderate use of s*** and f***.

Drug/Alcohol References: Many characters (all adults) drink and smoke throughout the story. Drunken states are used to forward the plot.

Sexual Content/Nudity: Female characters are shown in underwear and bras while getting dressed/undressed. One male character is shown in boxers, and men are occasionally shirtless. Many women’s dresses are tight and short with cleavage showing. A rape occurs, but nothing explicit is seen. Themes of infidelity, virginity, sexual assault, and innocence.

Other Negative Content: Two characters are in an emotionally abusive relationship, and one of them flirts with someone else. Another person constantly cheats on his wife. Many characters participate in manipulation and mean-spirited schemes against strangers, family, and friends. A rapist victim shames his target. Unpaid labor is casually mentioned as a good thing.

Spiritual Content: All the characters are explicitly based on Greek gods. As such, there are occasional mentions of sacrifice and worship. A girl is believed to be a witch. The main characters work in the Underworld; therefore, there are constant mentions of souls, death, the afterlife, and so on.

Positive Content: Some of the gods look out for one another, granting scholarships to poorer deities or opening their homes to roommates they barely know. Family ties are strong, for better or worse. When tragedy befalls the protagonist, her friends gather around her as a support system.

Review

In this world, Olympus is a sprawling city, and the Underworld is a thriving corporation. The gods still operate under a hierarchy, but they live more like Americans than the typical Grecian emperors of old. Persephone is a young lady raised in the mortal world. She moves to Olympus to study on scholarship from the Order of the Eternal Maidenhood, a group of vowed virgins for all eternity. This vow feels false, though, when she falls head over heels for Hades, king of the Underworld and brother of serial cheater Zeus.

Hades stares over a dark blue cityscape
Persephone & the Goody Two-Shoes Trope

Persephone is a typical innocent girl character. She exudes naïveté to the point of undressing in front of a man because they are childhood friends. Her knowledge of the gods’ world is distorted by a strict upbringing with her mother Demeter, who is opposed to her move. Despite the pressure from Demeter to come back home, Persephone befriends her roommate Artemis and learns about the city’s realities and dangers from her.

Having grown up with a strict mother of my own, Persephone was instantly relatable. She wears outfits that flatter her body, yet has no notion of how that affects the men around her. The city is large and intimidating, the opposite of her woodland home, and Persephone often gets lost. However, she learns to adapt, not only to her new environment but to the immense freedom given to her in Olympus.

Most sweet girl characters end up underutilized (see Naruto’s Hinata Hyuga or MHA’s Ochako Uraraka), underdeveloped, or both. I will never argue that Fruit’s Basket’s Tohru Honda is anything less than a Jesus-like character. By definition, though, that leaves little room for flaws or growth of her own. Lore Olympus’ Persephone has a vibrant personality, a strong moral compass, and flaws. Her desire to befriend everyone can get her into distressing situations – one of which haunts her for the rest of the series.

Abuse & Healing

This section will discuss emotional abuse and sexual assault, though not in detail. If these topics are triggering for you, feel free to skip this section.

About halfway through the first hardcover volume, Persephone finds herself the victim of a rape. A part of her understands what is happening, and she gives confused “consent” after being bullied to agree. To make matters worse, this is a person who should have been a friend. She feels ashamed and becomes terrified of losing her scholarship — the one set up for eternal virgins — and moving back home. Thank God I have never been the victim of such a horrific tragedy, but I can imagine how this innocent young lady feels.

Man on top of Persephone tells her she wants "this" because she was flirting with him

Author Rachel Smythe leaves the reader in the room while the rape occurs, but she illustrates the scene from Persephone’s view. A place deep in her mind. Pages are blank except for jumbles of black lines and confused thoughts weaving over one another. Every once in a while, we see a vague face or a flash from a phone camera. The scene is utterly heartbreaking and forces readers to empathize with Persephone.

While the female protagonist deals with a sexual assault, Hades is verbally abused by his girlfriend. She curses at, belittles, and ghosts him on dates. Whenever he tries to break up with her, they wind up back together. Hades is by no means a pushover, either. There is no victim blaming, calling him too feminine, or assuming he may be gay. As a brother of Zeus, Hades is technically a king, yet he struggles to assert himself because he does not want to disappoint the woman he thinks loves him.

Minthe yells at Hades

Both Persephone and Hades have romantic experiences filled with confusing messages, and neither of them relies on the other to “fix” them. Nearly all the characters in this series are broken in some way, and when they are together, they are broken together. By Volume Three (the last one I read), Persephone had confided her rape to a single friend, and Hades was officially dating his off-again, on-again girlfriend. The couple can make one another happy, but can never make one another whole. This rings true for everyone. A person will never fix your heart; that’s up to Jesus.

Unique Designs & Characterizations

The illustrations for Lore Olympus take some getting used to. Proportions are not anatomically correct, clothes are short and tight, and skin is rainbow-colored. All of these eccentricities in the art lead to a polished, intentional style. Women are depicted in clothing that shows a lot of skin, but the characters still look less sexualized than in most Western comic books. (Looking at you, 2022 Sins of Sinister #1!) In fact, this may be an artistic choice to show Persephone’s growth from a demure woodland girl to a vibrant young woman. Her innocence is not lost because of her choice of clothing but because of the depravity of a male fellow god. Lore Olympus takes pains to depict its women as strong, regardless of their wardrobe.

A purple, a green, and a blue man in a portrait

Almost every god(dess) has a color palette of their own. This makes identification easier for the reader. After all, there is a literal pantheon of characters to remember here. The coloring also makes their nonverbal expressions stand out more. When Hera’s face turns from gold to red, it is obvious she’s angry. Persephone’s slouch of shame is more pronounced when her neon skin is contrasted against her white robes.

These expressions and colors come as a natural complement to the characters themselves. Though few of them (in the chapters I have read so far) are original, they are still the unique product of Rachel Smythe’s vibrant imagination. Zeus as the horny CEO who sleeps with his secretary. Demeter as the overbearing mother who wants to keep her child close. Artemis as the roommate who always drags you out to a party on a Friday night. Eros as the matchmaker who always asks about everyone’s crushes at the sleepover. None of these descriptions were in the original myths, but they fit so well.

Conclusion

Lore Olympus is a slow-burn romance that develops naturally from a mutual crush to true love. The main characters are wonderfully contemporary versions of the Greek gods, and the secondary characters get their own development. Even Hades’ toxic girlfriend, Minthe, has sympathetic motivations and life outside being a plot device. Though sometimes it feels like too slow a burn, Hades and Persephone make progress toward their goal of being together. Their journey is definitely worth the read.

Persephone floats over Hades

You can catch up on the latest Lore Olympus for free on WebToon here.

Positives

+ Natural feel to relationships
+ Well-rounded characters
+ Unique, expressive art style

Negatives

- Art takes some getting used to
- Not for those triggered by sexual assaults, emotional abuse, or other relationship trauma

The Bottom Line

Lore Olympus, though dealing with gods, is a beautiful reminder of the fragility and wonder of humanity.

 

Story/Plot 10

Writing 9

Editing 9

Art 8

9

Courtney Floyd

Courtney has loved reading since she was a child. Kid's books, YA, memoirs, comics, graphic novels, manga, anything. She also loves bingeing anime, keeping up with her favorite shows like Star Trek, and playing video games. She has two dogs named Kora and Crash (after the Airbender series and Crash Bandicoot, respectively).

2 Comments

  1. Sillyyy on January 25, 2024 at 4:56 pm

    Has anyone made it further than vol 3? Are there any explicitly sexual scenes in these books? Ive looked and it says that they don’t even kiss until vol 5, but that isn’t really a guarantee in YA books lolll. I think I’d be able to handle the mentioned scene since it isnt explicitly shown but if i start reading this i wont want to stop, so any further info would be appreciated

    • Courtney Floyd on January 25, 2024 at 6:12 pm

      Hi Sillyyy. I’m caught up to the current chapters on Webtoon. They do eventually have sex (after getting married), but there is nothing very explicit. If I remember right, they do show a lot of kissing, some undressing, and maybe silhouettes, but there is never any full-blown nudity. Also, the characters discuss physical intimacy quite a bit before actually doing the act. You should be able to see it coming and skip ahead, if necessary. Hope this helps!

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