3/12/12

The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter

The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter (Harlequin Teen, YA, 2011) is, essentially, Hades and Persephone meets Beauty and the Beast (the first Robin McKinley version, which is my personal B. and B. benchmark!). Since I like both, and since Carter's spin on the story was pleasingly interesting, I found it a nice read, although one that I enjoyed more while I was actually reading it, than while thinking about it afterward.

The Persephone/Beauty character in this case is a teenaged girl named Kate. Her mom wanted to come back to her home town to live the last little while she has left before she dies....and so Kate has to try to be cheerful about their dingy new house and starting a new school. When, of course, cheerful is the last thing Kate feels, in as much as her beloved mother won't be there much longer.

But! When Kate is lured onto the grounds of a mysterious estate by high school queen bee Ava, she meets a strange, dark, brooding man named Henry, who seems to have power over death itself. And so Kate makes a bargain with Henry. He will keep her mother alive while she spends the winter with him in his sumptuous manor with rooms full of clothes etc., beautiful gardens, horse, and lots of tasty snacks. There are two catches. She must marry him, and she must try to pass the seven tests that no other girl ever lived long enough to complete.

If she wins, she's a goddess. If she looses (but manages to stay alive), she's an ordinary girl again, and Henry is the one who fades away...
Although I did find this a pleasantly diverting read, once I hit the end, and started thinking about it, it fell apart. For one thing, I never quite suspended my disbelief about the romance side of things--Kate sort of passively fell into her situation, and her one real emotional preoccupation (understandably) is with her mother. More than that, the whole being married to the god of the dead who you really don't know all that well, who makes squirrely bargains with you without clearly explaining the consequences, and who's still in love with his dead ex-wife (Persephone), is in general not something I'd like for my own daughter (if I had one). I wasn't exactly rooting for it to end up all rosy and happy, and indeed, Carter doesn't insult the reader by making it a happy ever after ending (which I appreciated).

My main complaint is that the Greek gods and goddess play parts in the story, but they are Greek gods and goddesses seen through a blurry lens. If you are more than passingly familiar with Greek mythology, you may well find this annoying; I was profoundly disappointed. For instance, Carter took tremendous liberties with Hera. Hera's trademark characteristic is marital loyalty, which goes out the window here in a way that almost spoiled the whole book for me. She also takes liberties with the underworld, which I can sympathize with--it must have been tricky, but the result is a mishmash of various religions with the underworld of Greek myth and it never quite make sense. (I was also thrown by the fact that I got to the end of the book, encountered a character named Walter who I presume must have been mentioned, but of whom I had No Memory....but that could easily be my fault and not the author's. If someone can tell me who Walter is, I'd appreciate it--I flipped through the book, but didn't see him...).

I'd did enjoy this one, and I'll be reading the next one (Goddess Interrupted, coming out at the end of March), but since I am assuming the sphere of action is going to move beyond the manor house of Hades, and the other gods will have more page time, I'm kind of doubtful....will I be even more profoundly irked by Carter's reimagining of the myths?

16 comments:

  1. Walter is apparently Zeus husband of Hera herein renamed Calliope. Calliope is the villain of the piece and she continues her villainous ways in book 2. Book 2 adds Titans to the confusing mix. I felt like I needed a scorecard with current name and mythological name. I wasn't as irked by the re-imagining of the myths as I was of Kate's clingy, needy character when I read book 2.

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    1. yes, but who was he in the book before the big reveal? I have no recollection of a character named Walter...

      and hmmmmm....I'm not sure I really want more clingy needy Kate! Thanks for the warning! But I'll probably read it anyway.

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  2. I found it a nice read, although one that I enjoyed more while I was actually reading it, than while thinking about it afterward. -- and that's why I decided to skip on the sequel just now. I'll get to it eventually, but I had some issues with the passivity as well. On one hand, the Greek myths are irksome like that - humans are acted upon or acted with, and almost never simply act -- but on the other hand, if the author is modernizing, I would wish she could give a modern girl agency to be able to take her emotions and her life in her own hands.

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    1. And when the humans do act, they get zapped. I make many allowances for Kate because of her mother...clearly things were bad for a while, and then you add being married to the Lord of the Dead, and I think you can cut her some slack. But I do thing she should have Questioned it all a bit more....

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  3. Hmm. I haven't read this but I'm not sure I'd like the fuzziness of the Greek myths. It's going to be a maybe for me.

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  4. In its favor, it was a zippy page turner of escapism, and if you are ever in the mood for such, it might suit admirably....

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  5. A zippy page turner of escapism is a pretty high recommendation, but I always get pretty frustrated with novel adaptations of Greek Myths. The gods are consistently less interesting and less developed than they are in the original myths. Which, to be fair, makes sense since they were actual figures in a culture with tons and tons of stories not to mention a system of worship. Also, part of what makes good fantasy good, imho, is that it takes you to another place. That's what makes urban fantasy great too. But too often people take Greek myths and try to bring them HERE, instead of taking you somewhere they are - if you know what I mean? Okay, random rant completed.

    Also, hi! Long time lurker, first time commenter.

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    1. Hi Sam! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      I think I know what you mean--unless the author is very brilliant, to bring the gods here makes them mundane, and the sense of numinous power and wonder is lost. The reader is almost taken out of our world in this book, but just not enough is done with the gods to make it click, and to transport the reader (which is why it read to me much more like a Beauty and the Beast story than a Hades and Persephone story).

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  6. Am intrigued by this and will have to take a look. Have you seen Ordinary Magic by Rubino-Bradway? It's on Netgalley, and I'm curious to see what you will think of this one.

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    1. Sadly, I don't do Netgalley, but I will look for that one...

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  7. I was considering reading this because I enjoy books based around mythology, but I am not so sure about it at the same time...

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  8. My sister got the book & I want to read it soo bad. But she won't let me.

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  9. I had no idea who Walter was either because I had no memory of who he was or if he was even mentioned. I Googled it and turns out Walter is that guy that comes with Henry to Kate's house on the autumn equanox, his valet.

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  10. Walter is the 'valet' that came with Henry the time in the beginning when he went to Kate's house to see if she would hold up her end of the bargain. Two weeks after Henry 'saved' Ava.

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    1. Thanks Anon! I still think, though, that if you are going to be revealled as a god you should be more memorable!

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