The gods are dying...

The gods are dying…

“The feathers were starting to be a nuisance.”

Long time readers and friends of mine will know that I’ve got a bit of a thing for the myths of ancient Greece. If, at gunpoint, I had to choose a religion to go for, it would be Hellenism. I like the idea that the gods are just as flawed and messy as humans, because surely only a flawed being (or race of beings) could create a world as conflicting and conflicted as ours. Initially wary, however, that an author was moving these well established characters of myth to the young adult genre, I was curious enough about the concept and the portrayal of the gods, so decided to plunge in.

This time round, however, the gods are dying, something that until now they thought was impossible. The story opens with Athena (choking slowly to death on feathers) and Hermes (body wasting away from the inside out) searching a desert for what remains of Demeter, who is now just a thin sheet of skin stretched out for miles on the desert sand, bracing herself for the day she rips apart. She warns that the gods are going to war again and they need to seek help from the prophetess of old, Cassandra.

She, however, has long since been reincarnated and is now a high school student with vague psychic powers that she sees as a mere fluke of brain chemistry. With no idea of who she once was or that gods are real, she has few worries greater than homework or getting grounded by her parents. But her boyfriend, Aidan, will go to the ends of the earth to protect her, especially when he realises that the gods are coming aftter her and he has to reveal his true nature. Athena and Hermes, however, are on a mission to find her and must first seek the help of the last of Circe’s witches and Odysseus, the hero of Troy, also reincarnated, to get a clue as to Cassandra’s whereabouts before the rival gods seek her out and use her for their own means. It’s a race against time as each day brings every god one step closer to their final breath.

Young adult fiction takes a bashing from critics (including from myself), but as with Patrick Ness, when it’s written well and doesn’t patronise the audience, it can be great. Refreshingly, there’s no love triangle here (although, given the nature of the Greek gods, I don’t doubt the sequels will have one or two) but there is an obsessive boyfriend. The best characters are the gods, and it’s nice to see some different ones take their position at front and centre stage. Hermes, Aphrodite and Apollo are all fairly standard in these sort of stories, but for once Zeus is nowhere to be found, Demeter gets the part of a supporting character (she’s usually lucky if she even gets named) and the main character is Athena, who I’ve only ever seen as a background character. Even more excitingly, the book emphasises that she is the goddess of battle, making a change from the fact she’s usually just seen as the goddess of wisdom.

It’s also nice to see how it includes the heroes of the time, such as Cassandra herself and Odysseus, as well as the descendants of the witches, who now run a high-end escort service and provide assistance in both the boardroom and the bedroom for anyone rich enough to afford them.

Some of the imagery is pretty powerful – Athena pulling feathers out from the roof of her mouth is actually quite vile – and it’s fast paced, perhaps slacking a little in the middle, but generally racing towards the dramatic (and surprising) conclusion. It uses the same old theme of morality – how there’s no black and white,  just shades of grey – but mixes it up by showing how the gods change sides over the centuries, and that everyone has their own reason for doing what they do; no one is the villain in their own story.

The book is billed as a trilogy but the second one is only out in hardback, so I’ll wait until the paperback release. However, I probably will return here, as I like the interpretations of the characters and am curious as to how and why gods would die.

To read my take on the nature of gods and witches, head to Amazon, iTunes, SmashWords or any other ebook retailer and find my debut novel The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, where the two factions come together, somewhat against their will.