Normally I’d preface this review by saying I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan, but I don’t think the things I disliked about THE IMMORTALS: The Olympians Book One (cover by Kirk Benshoff, all rights with current holder) had much to do with the subgenre.
The story. The protagonist, Selene, was once Artemis, virgin goddess of the hunt. But the Olympians are no longer gods and Artemis’ gifts have deserted her. Even her dedication to avenging rape and abuse has faded. But when a serial killer starts butchering women following an ancient Greek ritual, Selene sets out to stop the murders.
WHAT I LEARNED
Burnout Is Hard to Write. Selene starts the book at the end of her rope. She’s alone (the Olympians don’t hang out much), drained of power; even her passion for revenge is more rote than fire. She no longer feels she has a purpose or a direction. This is intriguing, but it’s difficult to write from Selene’s POV. Like the protagonist of Weighing Shadows she doesn’t really want anything, and that’s hard to convey without making the character dull.
This is a useful lesson for me. I’ve been wonderinf if my burned-out protagonist in Southern Discomfort needs more than just “I’m miserable and see no reason for existence” as a motivation. The Immortals makes me feel my reservations are right.
Personal Taste Determines “Quality” I love the Greek gods (I started reading kids’ books of Greek myth when I was six). I’m predisposed to love stories which put the gods in the present day (Night Life of the Gods by Thorne Smith, for example). And the scenes with Artemis and her kindred were the ones that really came alive for me. It’s not that Brodsky did anything dazzlingly original—the idea of the gods succeeding or fading based on their relationship with the modern world is a common one—but I’m predisposed to like these scenes.
Conversely I’m sick and tired of serial killers. The killer’s initial POV scene where he’s brooding about how awesomely powerful he will become when he’s finished his ritual killings made me flinch because it’s the voice of pretty much every arrogant Lecter-wannabe ever (the killer is more interesting when he’s unmasked at the climax, but it’s too late).
Three good scenes, no bad ones. (for the explanation of that term, click here) Even setting aside my distaste for serial killers, there’s too much of the book that didn’t hold my interest (I had the same problem with The Rising but not as acutely). Selene, as noted, is too burned out to be a compelling protagonist. Her sidekick/potential lover Theo is absurdly and implausibly pretentious (I’m sorry, I don’t buy even a classical scholar blurting out “Holy Roman Empire!” in a moment of crisis) and at times seriously stupid. And Brodsky seems determined to share all her research on what Greek myths meant and what the Eleusian mysteries really were and lots more stuff, which did nothing but bog down the story.
There’s a whole world out there. One thing that occurred to me is that the Greek gods’ present-day roles are very much written from an American perspective. I’m not sure that doesn’t skew how the Olympians are treated (this is a point of interest as it relates to a myth-based story of my own). Sure, hunting’s a fading activity in the US, but what about the rest of the world? There are plenty of tribes that survive by hunting, still—why doesn’t Artemis trek to the Amazon jungles and draw on their hunter-ness? Though this is not so much a critique of Brodsky (I admit it would be hard to do an urban fantasy in the Matto Grosso) as “Greek gods in the present” stories in general. They always appear in the US (or the UK in British books), always reflect that society, never seem to notice the rest of the world (why not Paris? Mexico City? Athens?). If I get to doing more work on my story, I’ll have to give that some thought.