To paraphrase an old song by Joan Osborne, what if the gods were just like us?
This is the possibility posed by Antigoddess, Book One of the Goddess War series for young adults in which Kendare Blake, bestselling author of Anna Dressed in Blood, takes us through a modern day skirmish of Greek gods and goddesses. The ancients are discovering cracks in their immortality and are slowly succumbing, ironically, to their individual strengths. Poseidon is becoming encrusted with coral, Aphrodite maddened by love, Hermes wasting away from his superior metabolism, and even the goddess of war, Pallas Athena, is choking on the feathers of her trusty owl minions.
Blake displays her sharp wit when we also learn that the gods’ powers have diminished significantly over the millennia, as Athena reflects ruefully after being stiffed her change by a bartender: “In days gone by she might have smote him, turned him into a tree or a statue or something. Glory days.” The healthiest of them all, Apollo, is the one who seems to have succumbed to his “humanity” to the greatest extent. The cast of deities proceed to choose moral sides in a battle for survival between the Machiavellian and the humanistic. Blake takes us through an exciting tale of alliances and sorties with a thrilling conclusion and promise of more to come.
In addition to a fun read for the teen set, Antigoddess also provides a deeper, more adult layer of interest. Blake, by bringing Greek mythology into a modern setting, helps us to comprehend what it might have been like to live in a society whose gods were multifarious and capricious. At best, humans were often playthings and, at worst, mere cannon fodder in the soap operatic tussles on Olympus. Religion seemed to be much more of an explanation of the powerlessness of men than a comfort. In the book, Blake shows an evolving morality of the gods and goddesses on the humans’ side, as they attempt to atone for their past misdeeds.
My primary criticism with the book is, in part, a plea for more from Blake. If this is to be Book One, then I feel a strong need for at least one prequel, as the reader seems to be plunked down in the middle of a tale. In the opening, how did Hermes and Athena come to be meandering through the western U.S. desert, looking for Demeter? And how did suave Apollo end up in upstate New York (near Ithaca, naturally), squiring the teenage reincarnation of Cassandra of Troy? Inquiring minds want to know, perhaps even before Book Two.