The Goddess Test: Guts the myths

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsYA fantasy book reviews Aimée Carter The Goddess TestThe Goddess Test by Aimée Carter

I was excited about The Goddess Test from the moment I first heard about it. The myth of Persephone and Hades has always held a certain fascination for me, and I enjoy reading adaptations of it and seeing what different authors do with the story. In Aimée Carter’s version, Persephone left Hades some time ago and Hades needs a new queen to help him rule the underworld. The queen candidates must first pass a series of tests, however, and someone keeps murdering the young women before they can complete the tests.

Enter Kate. She has felt set apart from other teens for several years, ever since her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now Mom has one last wish: to die in the small town of Eden, Michigan. Kate isn’t too keen on living in the boonies, but she’ll do anything for her mom, so move they do. Then a classmate plays a prank on her that goes horribly wrong. Only Henry (aka Hades), the mysterious resident of Eden Manor, can help Kate, and there is a price to pay: Kate must spend half of every year, for the rest of her life, as Henry’s queen. But first there are those tests…

Aimée Carter writes with a smooth, unpretentious prose style that moves the story along quickly. Sometimes it moves a bit too quickly, in fact; it takes Kate several months to fall for Henry, but those months are summed up so briefly that it feels abrupt to the reader. On the other hand, this quick pace means The Goddess Test is emphatically not one of those YA novels that bogs down in hundreds of pages of angsty school scenes. There are a few of those at the beginning, and then we’re on to the meat of the plot.

Carter’s treatment of Greek mythology is less successful, however. The Greek gods as presented here are defanged and moralistic versions of themselves, and in most cases not very fleshed out, either. There’s tweaking a myth and then there’s gutting it, and this is the latter.

The problem starts with the nature of the tests: they’re based on the Seven Deadly Sins. This is an odd fit with Greek myth. If you’re familiar with the myths, your reaction to Zeus — Zeus! — proclaiming that he does not “abide lust” will probably be laughter. The sins are interpreted in troubling ways, too. [SPOILER — highlight the text if you want to read it:] Take gluttony, for example. Henry asks Kate to stop eating so she won’t fail that test. I get that eating isn’t necessary to survive in Eden Manor, so it makes a certain internal sense, but I have qualms about young girls reading this and thinking that eating at all is gluttony. Then there’s lust. Kate and Henry are drugged with an aphrodisiac by a third party and have (fade-to-black) sex, and as a result Kate is told she’s failed the lust test. It disturbs me that Kate is told that she has sinned when the consensuality of the act is dubious at best. She’s later told that this harsh decision is just another part of the test, but it still disturbs me that it was said in the first place, by characters we’re meant to like.[END SPOILER]

Moving on to the personalities of the gods, most of them are either undeveloped or unrecognizable. One of the central conceits in The Goddess Test is that the gods are all around Kate during her stay at Eden Manor, but she doesn’t know which “people” are secretly which gods. I understand why some obfuscation is necessary, but the end result is that Zeus is lecturing about lust (and not as a part of his “disguise”; this is after the reveal), Artemis likes corsets, a different deity altogether is going around calling herself “Diana” for some reason, Hades himself is rather dull, and several of the gods just don’t have much personality at all. The shining exception is Aphrodite, a character I don’t precisely like but who enlivens every scene she’s in. At first I thought she was written inconsistently, but as the story progressed it became clear that this wild inconsistency is an essential part of her character. She’s also one of the few who resembles the “real” god, and as such, she doesn’t quite fit in with the ersatz ones.

The Goddess Test ends with two occurrences that cheapen everything that has gone before. One of these occurrences concerns a huge lie that has been told to Kate for a long time. When the truth is revealed, I think I’m supposed to think it’s happy, but instead I’m furious on Kate’s behalf. The other occurrence throws a wrench into the romantic plotline; it helps set up a second book at the cost of making Kate look either naïve or fickle.

As I mentioned above, though, the writing itself is good. This could be a fun light book for readers who are less obsessed with mythology than I am. But for my part, I recommend Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series instead. It may be technically written for a younger age group, but it’s enjoyable for teens and adults too — and the gods are recognizably their capricious, perilous selves.

The Goddess Test — (2011-2013) Young adult. The Goddess Hunt is an ebook novella. The Goddess Legacy is a story collection. Publisher: It’s always been just Kate and her mom — and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall. Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld — and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests. Kate is sure he’s crazy — until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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