Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2023: Her Dark Wings by Melinda Salisbury

As part of our series focusing on the Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2023 shortlist, Rosie discovers the beauty and the fury of Melinda Salisbury’s Her Dark Wings.

Melinda Salisbury’s Her Dark Wings, nominated in the Older Age category for the Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2023, is an enchanting tale that reimagines the power of Greek mythology through the passion and anger of a heartbroken 17-year-old girl on a modern-day island that worships the Greek Gods.

When the people she loves most – her best friend Bree and her boyfriend Ali – betray her with each other, Corey’s happy life falls apart around her. Corey perfectly captures the huge and complicated emotions of breaking up with a best friend – resentment, fury, confusion – both at Bree and at herself for under all this is a bitter lingering love, which she is suddenly cheated of the chance to work through by a tragic accident. Bree’s death tangles up the anger and betrayal in grief, and the power and fury of teenage emotion fits beautifully with the mythical setting of the book.

Fury is the word – the highlight of the book is Corey’s relationship with Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone, the three terrifying deities of vengeance who take in and take care of Corey when she finds herself trapped in the Underworld. They are the extreme of human emotion, the ugly drive for revenge, for justice, and the perfect refuge for heartbroken Corey. While they are violent and merciless, and Corey is horrified to witness their role as torturers in the afterlife, they also love her, and their devotion and solidarity makes her stronger, gives her a voice as they listen to the feelings she hasn’t been able to express since Bree’s death.

Beyond the Furies’ home in Erebus lies a barren wasteland, as nothing can grow in the Underworld – until Corey. Feeling homesick for her vegetable beds, she experiments with a handful of seeds found in her pocket, and watches as they sprout and turn into something bright and alive in the afterlife. She feels out her anger with the Furies and her power with the secret garden she keeps close to her chest, and eventually she must make a choice between the hatred she still harbours for her best friend and the life she’s creating. Corey’s decision is about the kind of life she wants to lead and not about Hades, who she has gradually been getting closer to throughout the book. Refreshingly, despite the book being described as a retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth, romance is never a main theme, and Corey’s relationships with other women are far more important to the story and to her development.

Her Dark Wings is beautifully written, with a cast of wonderfully complex characters who learn and grow alongside one another. The ugliest feelings – revenge and justice and heartbreak on a mythic scale – are explored and recognised as valid and important to let yourself feel, even if allowing them to determine your actions won’t help you feel better. These emotions live in all the characters, alongside hope and love and creation, and the capacity to choose – as Corey does – to grow.

Her Dark Wings is one of ten books shortlisted for the Cheshire Schools’ Book Award 2023. All books are nominated, read, debated and voted for by secondary students across Cheshire, Warrington, Halton and surrounding areas. The winners of this year’s award will be announced at Winsford Academy on Tuesday 23rd May 2023.

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