Book Review: Voice of Gods by Eleanor Herman (Blood of Gods and Royals 0.5)

Voice of Gods
Eleanor Herman
3/5 Stars

Update (8/31/15): after reading most of Legacy of Kings and being very close to DNFing it, I dropped this from a 4-star to a 3 star rating. I thought the novella was entertaining enough, but had a nagging feeling as I was writing this that I was being too generous with my rating. After being reminded of all the issues that annoyed me in this book though Legacy of Kings (and a whole bunch of other issues, which I’ll get to in my review of it when I finally finish it), I decided to be more realistic with my opinion.

That being said, the following review has not been altered from its original form–only the star rating has.

Legacy of Kings is one of those new books that I’ve seen everywhere since I first encountered it and shelved it on Goodreads in June. I was determined to read it early but didn’t get any response from NetGalley on either of the two editions I requested. No matter, though—I soon discovered that there’s a (free!) e-novella prequel to LoK called Voice of Gods, which I just finished reading Tuesday when LoK was released. According to the synopsis, it goes a little something like this:

As the end of an age approaches, gods whisper horrors, families scheme for power, and one woman may hold the secret to a lost legacy.

At 19, Ada of Caria yearns to take the Snake Blood throne from her mad older siblings—and seeks the help of a young orphaned girl named Helen, the first True Oracle to have walked the earth in more than three hundred years.

Helen may be able to channel the voice of the gods, but she hates her gift, and will do anything to get rid of it—even lie to her best friend, Myrtale, the priestess-princess of Epirus who is destined to marry King Philip II of Macedon even though she loves another. And in the shadows lurks a handsome green-eyed stranger who has more at stake—and more to lose—than anyone could possibly imagine. Amid jealousy and heartbreak, torrid affairs and secret rendezvous, it is spoken by the gods that either Helen or Myrtale —newly named Olympias— will carry the destiny of the known world within her womb.

The prequel to LEGACY OF KINGS, VOICE OF GODS traces the intricate web of love and betrayal that led up to the birth of history’s most powerful leader, Alexander the Great.

My reading speed for this one started off somewhat slow, then picked up very quickly: as I explained in a Goodreads comment to a reviewer who criticized the first chapter of LoK (which I completely understand and had the same criticism of, myself—but more on that when I review LoK, as I’m reading it now), it seems as if Herman takes a chapter or two to really get into her groove.

Voice of Gods begins with Helen escaping from Koinos—a man who takes in abandoned girls and works them at the loom until they are “of age” and then prostitutes them. Because Helen is an oracle, though, he wants to sell her off to the Aesarian Lords, men who seek magical beings to experiment on them. Helen is desperate to get away and escapes in the middle of a furious storm, and when she realizes she needs to get across the breakwater to travel from the mainland to an island, she is conveniently pulled into the ocean and spit up onto an errant, unmanned canoe that is pushed to shore by a perfectly-aimed wave.

Moments like this made me cringe in the beginning—“can you say deus ex machina?” was all I kept thinking for pages to come—but those moments quickly passed and didn’t impact the story too heavily once things got going. Coupled with the prophecies that were composed mostly of cheesy rhymes, I nearly stopped reading, but I’m glad I kept on.

Because regardless of any minor grievances, Voice of Gods is an engaging read that made me genuinely care about the characters. Helen reminded me a bit of Morgaine from Mists of Avalon in that she constantly has a duty to fulfill and is used as a tool rather than treated like a human—passed from home to home, princess to princess for their own strategies—and I genuinely wanted more for her.

I loved the complex female relationships and the fact that Helen sees sexuality as a privilege instead of viewing her friends as harlots for having healthy sexual appetites. It’s rare to find a YA heroine these days who a) doesn’t hate and compete with every other female character in the book and b) doesn’t slut-shame other girls for having sex or being comfortable with their bodies, so VoG was refreshing in that sense—especially given the time period and the idea that an oracle is “impure” if she loses her virginity.

Overall, Voice of Gods fulfilled its duty in getting me interested in Herman’s historical fantasy world, and I was excited to start LoK yesterday. I’m hoping we get more information about the “handsome green-eyed stranger” in the novel, as I felt like his role—which seems pretty major from the synopsis—wasn’t fully explained in the novella.

Did you read either Voice of Gods or Legacy of Kings? I’m eager to know what others think!


Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

dark-places-book-coverDark Places
Gillian Flynn
5/5 Stars

Libby Day was just seven years old when her evidence put her fifteen-year-old brother behind bars. Since then, she has been drifting. But when she is contacted by a group who are convinced of Ben’s innocence, Libby starts to ask questions she never dared to before. Was the voice she heard her brother’s? Ben was a misfit in their small town, but was he capable of murder? Are there secrets to uncover at the family farm or is Libby deluding herself because she wants her brother back? She begins to realise that everyone in her family had something to hide that day… especially Ben. Now, twenty-four years later, the truth is going to be even harder to find. Who did massacre the Day family?’

Holy. Cow. Welcome to my Favorites shelf, Dark Places.

This is one of those books that I can sit on forever and not know how to properly write about. Because if I had it my way, this review would be passionate, incoherent babbling and fangirling over Flynn’s crisp storytelling and addictive writing and how I hope to be just like her when I grow up. I’ve recommended this novel to a few people over the past few weeks since I finished reading it, and every recommendation comes with some version of the same sentiment: if I can write half as well as Gillian Flynn someday, I’ll be content.

However, that’s not a real review—not that Flynn’s work even needs my meager addition six years deep in 5-star ratings. When Stephen King calls you “the real deal, a sharp, acerbic, and compelling storyteller with a knack for the macabre,” you don’t need much praise from an aspiring author with a handful of blog and twitter followers in her little corner of the internet. But praise I will, because even if no one ever reads this review, even if it convinces no one to give Dark Places a try, this is one of those books that insists I think—and write—about it.

I read Gone Girl and thoroughly enjoyed it, but once I heard about Dark Places and saw several reviewers I follow on Goodreads rave about it—all of whom are smart, witty, well-read women I’ve come to admire and whose literary opinions I trust—I knew I had to give it a try. Gone Girl was great, but I didn’t find most of the characters as relatable as I would have liked (I actually found Amy the most relatable, personally, which is a terrifying and humbling realization) and the ending was disappointing; this isn’t the case with Dark Places at all. In fact, I’d say the only similarity Dark Places has with Gone Girl is Flynn’s ability to make you care about and relate to selfish and inarguably horrible characters, no matter how much you’d rather not.

You have Libby, who has run her inheritance dry and willingly freeloads, and steals from, people who sympathize with the once-little girl who survived a traumatic tragedy. Then there’s her brother Ben, who may or may not have been responsible for the murder of their two young sisters (also both very unlikable, both in their own ways) and  mother. Tie up the knot with their mother’s inability to properly care for her children, an alcoholic father, and a whole other cast of seedy characters, and you have a book full of despicable people who should turn any reader away from the book in disgust. True to the Gillian Flynn style of characterization, of course, they do the total opposite and pull you in.

The book is a page-turner if I’ve ever read one. I read 100 pages on the airplane while homebound from Greece, then devoured every bit of it I could over the next several days until I finished it. There aren’t many books that leave me groaning in disappointment when I reach my stop on the subway—usually, I’m eager to get as far away from the New York City transit system as I can, as quickly as possible—but while reading this novel, I cherished every spare moment I had to read it. Nearing the end was a conflicting experience: I wanted to finally know the truth, to verify or disprove my speculations IMMEDIATELY, but realizing I’d be closing the door to the mystery, emotion, and terror in this story for good left me struggling against the pull to slow down. The resulting effect was something like a dreading, morbid need, which is exactly how I’m sure Libby feels as she gets closer to the end, herself.

Of course, I can (and probably will) re-read Dark Places, but it will never be the same as working my way through the story for the first time and spewing out frantic, constantly shifting speculations from scene to scene. I’m moving on though, and what better way to get over Dark Places than to delve into Sharp Objects? I’m addicted to Flynn’s dark prose and I’m hoping she has another novel coming out soon because, standing at only 243 pages, this one isn’t going to last me long.

Oh well. There’s always the movie (which is SO well-casted, by the way), which I’m seeing Saturday! Please excuse me while I go scratch my itch—and I suggest you get your hands on this book in my absence.

Have you read any of Gillian Flynn’s work? I’d love to discuss it with fellow readers and writers, so feel free to reach out!

Book Review: DOWNCAST by Cait Reynolds

Cait Reynolds
4/5 Stars

When I chose this book as one of the two reads I’d bring with me to Greece, it may have seemed to anyone else like a deliberate choice; however, I’d picked it simply because it was an e-book on my Nook that I hadn’t read yet, and I wanted to be able to bring only my Nook to save space. Truth is, I’d completely forgotten about the one thing that attracted me to this novel from the beginning—aside from, of course, the fact that it’s written by the lovely and talented Cait Reynolds: Downcast is a retelling of the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone.

(By the way, who else is in love with this cover?)

I took a Greek Mythology class in college and by far, the story of Hades and Persephone is one of my favorites. For those unfamiliar, it goes something like this: Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, was picking flowers in a field when she was dragged to the underworld by Hades. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, went into an agonized rage at her daughter’s disappearance and refused to return to Olympus; as a result, nothing could grow on earth. After a year of famine, Zeus summoned Hermes to collect Persephone, but not before she had eaten six pomegranate seeds in the underworld. Anyone who ate the food of the underworld must remain there, but if the famine continued, humankind would be eliminated—and so a compromise was struck. Persephone would spend 6 months in the underworld with Hades, and 6 months amongst the living with her mother, thus creating the cycles of the seasons as her mother lapsed in and out of despair.

Reynolds does a great job of weaving this story into a contemporary high school setting. She leaves mythological Easter eggs throughout the story that will send any mythology buff clapping with glee, and creates pretty impressive tension amongst oppressed good girl Stephanie Starr; her domineering and overly possessive mother; and the new tall, dark, and handsome boy at school, Haley. Stephanie is a relatable character regardless of how strict (or not) the reader’s upbringing was, and I found myself flying through the pages in hopes she’s be given some relief. I cheered when she rebelled, swooned when Haley wooed her, and laughed when Haley’s hunky brother Zack acted out. Overall, it was an exciting and quick read, and I was happy to have it with me while in the birthplace of the myths that inspired it.

I’d say that probably the only qualm I had with this story, resulting in a 4-star rating instead of a 5-star, is Haley’s behavior in the beginning. It seems the lines of consent and boundaries are blurred as he touches Stephanie without her permission, time and time again, upon just meeting her. I understood that he was meant to be a bit of a dark and tortured character, being a representation of Hades, but it took me a while to warm up to him as a romantic character when he was constantly invading her personal space in a way that struck real fear in her. I got the sense that the reader was supposed to find him charming and fall in love with him along with Stephanie, but for the first half of the book, I couldn’t help but think her warming feelings toward him were a result of her sheltered naiveté—that she wouldn’t have felt that way had she not been so desperate for a man’s affection and an escape from mother’s oppressive grasp.

That being said, that single qualm did not greatly affect my enjoyment of the story. Downcast is a fun, fast-paced read that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys Greek mythology and contemporary high school YA. From what I understand, Cait is working on a sequel, and I can’t wait!