BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Five years after The Gods Returned, Kyra Locke discovers herself and her father at the center of a divine conspiracy involving a powerful stolen relic capable of altering the delicate balance of power between mortal and divine.
PROS: Engaging, appealing female protagonist; good use of underrepresented deities as allies and opponents; sympathetic and well rounded antagonists.
CONS: Some worldbuilding elements appear to be inconsistent or not carefully thought through; characters other than Kyra fall flat.
BOTTOM LINE: Another fine YA from Bond and a solid entry into the Mythpunk subgenre.
Gods and Goddesses, as seen in a previous SF Signal Mind Meld, are an evergreen topic in genre. In a world where the Gods, to catastrophic results, returned five years ago from wherever they had been, the United States and the world has changed with their presence. An uneasy balance of power exists. The Gods are not quite immortal, and indeed, the clever humans have proven their strength by killing one of their number. Now, Washington is the center of human-divine relations, a place where the Gods do indeed walk the Earth again.
In the middle of this, a young girl discovers her father has disappeared with a powerful relic, her oracle mother has cryptic advice, and a society devoted to the study and containment of the returned Gods thinks she knows more than she’s letting on. So do several of the Gods who have also taken an unhealthy interest in our protagonist. All of these forces are not above moving heaven and earth to get Kyra to reveal what she knows, or push her on the chessboard toward an unknown goal.
Woken Gods is the story of Kyra Locke. She is, far and away, the strongest and brightest feature of the book. She’s an appealing 17 year old female protagonist with agency, with complexity in her background, and a refreshing three-dimensionality to her characterization. Frankly, Kyra comes off so well in the novel that her companions and contemporaries, by comparison, are nowhere near as well drawn and seem to suffer as a result. This only becomes an issue, and it does become an issue, when we shift from her first-person perspective to other third-person POVs. I would have preferred to have stayed in her head for the entire novel because the novel feels much flatter otherwise. I did like the complexity of the antagonists, however, with their logical and sympathetic goals and motivations.
In addition to Kyra as a character, the other feature of Woken Gods that really stands out to the reader is its creative use of mythology. Before reading it, I had expected the usual suspects of Greco-Roman mythology, or perhaps, if I was fortunate, a Norse Goddess or two thrown into the mix. Even with the popularity of myth in genre today, Greco-Roman and Norse mythology are far and away the most popular sources of myth one finds, even when its remixed and reimagined. To my surprise and delight, the Gods we see in the Woken Gods are none of the usual suspects. A Voudoun God is seemingly one of the primary antagonists, and a couple of Egyptian and Sumerian Gods have major roles within the narrative. My previous knowledge of their mythologies did not clash unduly with their depictions here, indicating that the author has clearly done her research. Woken Gods serves as a way to introduce, in a fantasy context, myths that most readers are going to have few or no expectations about, and the text leverages that in the plot and character of the Gods. Too, an interesting set piece in the book shows just what the devotional rites are for these returned Gods in a Modern Age.
Although there are some annoying inconsistencies and shallow patches that I found, I liked the worldbuilding in Woken Gods. While the story takes place mostly in and around a changed Washington D.C. It turns out that modern technology does not deal well with the nearby presence of Gods, not at all. And given that a number of the returned Gods, by treaty, now live in Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States is instead an embassy town to the returned divine beings. Given the need and love for technology for modern society, and the sheer terror that a God might accost you as you walk down Constitution Avenue, Washington is a depopulated place. In many ways, this gives the city a very early and cool 19th century feel as Kyra and her friends traverse it.
For readers perhaps too young to tackle Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or looking for lighter fare along the same lines as Tessa Gratton’s The United States of Asgard, or ready for something older-focused than Rick Riordan, The Woken Gods is an entertaining, if slightly flawed, story of a no-nonsense protagonist in a suddenly mythopoetic world.