I’ll start out by making an admission: the main thing that drew my attention to Antigoddess, the first installment in Kendare Blake’s new series The Goddess War, was its title. The book didn’t really look like my cup of tea, but, hmm, an Antigoddess… Sounds intriguing, right? Sometimes a good title can be a very effective hook all by itself.
Antigoddess is the story of two separate groups of characters, told in alternating chapters. On one side, you have Athena and Hermes, two gods you may recognize from Greek mythology. (If not, there’s always Homer, or if all else fails, Wikipedia.) These gods are still alive in our present day, but Athena is ill: feathers keep growing inside her body and working their way out. Hermes is also wasting away. Clearly, some big changes are afoot in the world of the gods. Impossible as it seems, someone or something is threatening the lives of these seemingly immortal beings.
Athena and Hermes decide to set out and investigate. In the course of their journey, they learn that a war is brewing. Some of the ancient Olympian gods are attacking the others and stealing their life force in an attempt to prolong their own lives. They’re not shy about hurting or killing regular mortals in the process. And it appears that a girl called Cassandra may be an important asset for whichever side gets to her first.
Cassandra, the lead character in the second storyline, is a teenager in upstate New York whose oddest trait appears to be making occasional prophesies that always come true—much like the Cassandra in the Iliad. Nowadays, she isn’t even aware of the existence of the Olympian gods, let alone the fact that some of them are out to get her…
Antigoddess is, in some ways, a puzzle that slowly comes together as the two groups of characters slowly gain awareness of what’s going on. For Athena and Hermes, that includes discovering who is behind all of this and how they may be stopped. For Cassandra and her friends, it’s discovering that there’s anything supernatural going on in the first place.
As a result, the two story lines read very differently: one is tale of eternal living gods and a war that will change everything, the other a tale of almost run-of-the-mill American teenagers who go to hockey practice and worry about their grades. The characters in the teenagers’ chapters are much more relatable—which is understandable, compared to ancient, dying gods—but for most of the book, it feels like the really important action is happening in the gods’ chapters.
This creates an interesting sort of tension for the reader as the novel builds up to a climax when the two groups inevitably meet. That tension is really what saves this book, because otherwise this first installment of the Goddess War series often feels like setup for major events that are sure to follow in future volumes.
That setup includes lots of helpful info about the story’s mythological underpinnings, which god or goddess did what to whom (or should that be Whom?), and why the resulting grudge may have persisted across millennia. It also establishes the book’s signature environment: a dark, not to say gothy sort of atmosphere in which the dying gods walk the Earth. It’s a perfect fit for YA fiction: a Twilight-like moodiness in which teenagers find that they may just be key players in an age-old conflict of suddenly vulnerable immortals.
Antigoddess is a mix of familiar elements: take some mythology, add a dash of horror, stir in some fairly recognizable teen/YA plot elements and characters. The end result is a dark contemporary YA fantasy that feels like it’s somehow managed to mix American Gods, Percy Jackson, and any of several current Disney Channel teenage TV dramas.
And the oddest thing about all of it? Well, it actually works. Sort of. This is absolutely not my usual fare, and I started off being skeptical about the whole thing, but somehow, chapter by chapter, I found myself getting more and more intrigued. This opening volume is a bit too heavy on setup, and again it’s really not my usual cup of tea, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this series turns out to be a huge success.
This review was originally published at Tor.com on September 30th, 2013.