It pains me to concede that Woken Gods is not quite the novel I’d hoped. I loved the premise, and thoroughly enjoyed parts of it, but I also had nagging doubts that I found difficult to shake. The basis of the novel is simple. Ancient Gods have woken, and they walk the Earth.
Brilliant and audacious, maybe, but I don’t think the novel had enough meat to cover bones this size. I think the problem stems from Woken Gods being a YA novel; heavily plot driven, with teenage angst and romance thrown in. Against a backdrop of all known deities stalking the Earth, these themes feel underpowered. I would like to have seen a much weightier tome. A brick, like Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The reality of Gods walking the Earth would fundamentally alter every facet of human existence. It’s ramifications would run deep, yet in this novel the surface is barely scratched.
We join the story five years after the gods have woken. This gives the peculiar feeling that you’re reading book 2. An experience I’ve not had before. The gods woke, threatened to take over the world, but thanks to a shadowy organisation, ‘The Society of the Sun’, they have been kept in check. This was (apparently) due to an audacious capture and slaying of a god. Realising they too were mortal, the gods started playing nice. I immediately felt like I was playing catch up. Despite being sure this was book one in the series, so heavy was the exposition explaining what i missed, I succumbed to my doubts and searched the Internet to check it wasn’t a second novel.
To trim down the deific interactions only the trickster gods wish to have prolonged contact with the world. This has the effect of paring down the overwhelming number of gods Bond has to deal with, whilst leaving her the cool ones to play with. Some are well known, Hermes, Loki and Set, others less so, Legba and Enki. It is the less notorious gods that Bond focuses on, and the book contains some interesting and little known mythology. This is the first of the novel’s good points.
But it is also where I feel the novel falls down. If the Gods walk the Earth, where is God? And why does no one mention him? Or JC, Allah, Ganesha, Shiva and Vishnu for that matter. Why hasn’t Ravanna poked his heads in? The implications for modern religion are obviously huge, but they are ignored, undermining the novel’s central premise. This is why I would like to have seen a much meatier novel.
Putting that aside, what’s the story like? It’s strong, with some great set pieces and a pleasing prophecy twist (where we all think one thing is going to happen, but something else does). There are some great shadowy villains and nothing creates excitement like gods double crossing each other. The Society of the Sun have a store of religious relics, and Bond uses them bring magic into the novel in an inventive way. (If you like this sort of thing be sure to check out Polly Shulman’s ‘New York Circulating Material Repository‘ books).
Woken Gods’ teen-romance is weak, but that other stalwart of YA fiction, the parental battle, comes off in spades. Despite the unusual backdrop, the relationship between Kyra Locke and her parents feels very real. A father absent through work and a mother missing due to illness means Kyra faces her challenges alone. Beneath her confident tough exterior is a conflicted girl lacking love and support. Bond handles it very well.
The novel ends on a high. It’s open ended, and has the promise of interesting times ahead. There’s a hint that I might be in luck on the religious ramifications side in the next novel, and the promise of a whole heap of action. Whilst not completely convinced by everything in Woken Gods, there was more than enough to maintain my interest. Gwenda Bond has conjured a marvellous premise for a an extend run of novels, and despite my reservations, it’s the first time I’ve ever been tempted to generate some fan fiction. In reality I’ll end up leaving it to the professionals, and I’m intrigued to see where Gwenda takes things next.
Many thanks to Caroline at Strange Chemistry for sending me a copy this book. Here is Gwenda talking to John Scalzi about Woken Gods on his blog, Whatever.