Book Review: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

(Goddess War #1)
by Kendare Blake
September 10, 2013
Tor Teen
336 pages
Source: Around the World ARC Tours


The Goddess War begins in Antigoddess, the first installment of the new series by acclaimed author of Anna Dressed in Blood, Kendare Blake.

Old Gods never die…

Or so Athena thought. But then the feathers started sprouting beneath her skin, invading her lungs like a strange cancer, and Hermes showed up with a fever eating away his flesh. So much for living a quiet eternity in perpetual health.

Desperately seeking the cause of their slow, miserable deaths, Athena and Hermes travel the world, gathering allies and discovering enemies both new and old. Their search leads them to Cassandra—an ordinary girl who was once an extraordinary prophetess, protected and loved by a god.

These days, Cassandra doesn’t involve herself in the business of gods—in fact, she doesn’t even know they exist. But she could be the key in a war that is only just beginning.

Because Hera, the queen of the gods, has aligned herself with other of the ancient Olympians, who are killing off rivals in an attempt to prolong their own lives. But these anti-gods have become corrupted in their desperation to survive, horrific caricatures of their former glory. Athena will need every advantage she can get, because immortals don’t just flicker out.

Every one of them dies in their own way. Some choke on feathers. Others become monsters. All of them rage against their last breath.

The Goddess War is about to begin.(Goodreads Summary.)
**This is an ARC review.
Any quotes and excerpts are taken from an unfinished text and
are therefore subject to change before the final print**

Opening Line

The feathers were starting to be a nuisance.
My Take On It
Here’s the deal–I am an unapologetic classical mythology SNOB. The roots of my snobbery can be traced back to my childhood when I watched what is perhaps one of the WORST movies ever made: Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John. Never heard of it? Unless you’re my age you probably wouldn’t have, basically it was a disco-flavored roller skating movie (there you go, now you can guess the time frame) and was pretty forgettable. Anyway, Newton-John’s character was supposed to be one of the nine muses from Greek mythology, and a roller skating mortal falls for her (I told you it was BAD.)
Yes, that’s Olivia Newton-John and the Nine Muses and yes, she IS wearing leg-warmers.
But after I saw the movie and asked my mom who the Nine Muses were, she did something awesome. She went to the local book store and bought me a copy of D’aulaires’ Greek Myths. I was seven years old and I read that book cover to cover.

When I went to college I took a class in Ancient World Humanities and kicked ass because I knew all the Greek myths that were the inspiration for the classical sculpture, architecture and theatre we studied. In fact, I went on to get a degree in Art History and come back to team-teach a class on Classical Mythology through Art and Literature with the same professor who taught me that Humanities course.

The point I am trying to make is this: I LOVE classical mythology. But whenever I read a book that features a mythological storyline I tend to approach it with a fair amount of skepticism because it rarely lives up to my expectations. But on the same note I also go into it with a certain amount of hopefulness that this book will be THE ONE. The one book that totally sucks me in as a reader and does JUSTICE to those original myths and stories. Most of the time, this doesn’t happen. Usually the mythological retelling just doesn’t fly with me and falls short. There are exceptions. I haven’t read the entire series, but I think Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series is very good MG fiction. My ten year old son loves that series. But as far as YA goes, I have been disappointed time and time again. Until now.

When I started Kendare Blake’s Antigoddess, I was anxious but hopeful. I really liked Anna Dressed in Blood– I liked the characters, I liked Blake’s writing and I LOVED the horror aspects. Blake can write some dark stuff guys, and I love that about her. So I was very curious about what she had in store for readers with Antigoddess. Happy to report that this book ROCKS.

So, of course what I loved most was the mythology. Blake has done what Riordan did with Percy Jackson, take those incredible myths, and the gods and goddesses that are featured in them, and put them in a modern day setting. But whereas Riordan’s works reads as very middle grade (and that’s ALL GOOD you guys, I’m a definite fan of MG lit) Blake’s spin is more mature, darker in tone, and decidedly more HIP.

In Antigoddess there are two storylines running parallel to each other: that of Athena, goddess of wisdom, the arts, and battle, and that of Cassandra, a high school girl living in upstate New York who has a knack for telling the future. Written in alternating third person pov, the first part of the book is paced a bit slow, but does slowly build up to the point where both storylines converge and then BAM! Things get very, very interesting.

Not to rehash the book’s summary, but in a nutshell, Athena and her brother Hermes, the cunning messenger god of thieves, trickery and travelers are somehow dying. And dying in the most unpleasant of ways. Athena, whose sacred bird is the owl, is sprouting feathers from the inside, Hermes is withering away to skin and bones. And Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture, has been stretched into a leathery skin that is affixed to the Earth. It’s Blake’s descriptions of Athena’s affliction where her descriptive writing and flair for the dark and horrible shine the most. I promise that you will absolutely FEEL it when Athena reaches inside her mouth to pull a feather how out by it’s quill. It will give you SHIVERS.
The feathers were starting to be a nuisance. There was one in her mouth, tickling the back of her throat. She chewed at it as she walked, grabbed it with her molars and pulled it loose. Warm, copper-penny blood flooded over her tongue. There were others too, sprouting up inside of her like a strange cancer, worming their way through her innards and muscle. Before long she would be essentially a girl-shaped walking chicken, constantly plucking at herself.

Athena doesn’t know why this is happening but she does know that battle lines are being drawn and on the opposite side sits Poseidon, the powerful god of the sea and the cold and calculating Hera, queen of Olympus and Zeus’s first wife. They too are dying, and it’s up to Athena to discover why this happening before it triggers the end of the world.

Meanwhile Cassandra and her devoted boyfriend Aiden are completely oblivious to the fact that the ancient gods are lining up to do battle against each other. In fact, Cassandra has no clue that these gods even exist in reality. But as the summary says, she’s got a role to play in the upcoming war between the gods.

Ok, so if battles between the gods sounds somewhat familiar to you then it may be because one of the greatest epic poems ever written featured this theme. In the 8th century BC, Homer wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Iliad told the story of the fall of the great city of Troy at the hands of the Greeks. And in that classic story, which featured the heroes Achilles and Hector; Helen, the most beautiful woman on earth; and a tragic prophetess named Cassandra who warned the Trojans to “beware Greeks bearing gifts”, the great gods and goddesses of Olympus chose sides, watching and very often interfering as the battle played out on the human stage. Antigoddess isn’t a retelling of that epic poem, but is instead a wholly original story that features many of it’s greatest figures.

And I mentioned Homer’s other poem The Odyssey, which tells the tale of Odysseus, a clever and cunning Greek who, at the hands of vengeful gods, embarks on a ten year journey home. I was thrilled to discover that many characters from this epic poem find their way into Antigoddess as well, and in some rather unexpected ways.

Had Blake simply expanded on these two classic works, which most scholars agree have had enormous impact and influence on Western literature, I would have been thrilled. But Blake takes it a step further by adding her own twists to these stories and characters and placing them in a modern setting. Athena, Hermes, Apollo and the other gods may look like modern young adults, but they also retain the characteristics that make them gods in the first place.

But what I really loved about Antigoddess was that Blake allowed her characters to become more than just gods dressed up like modern day humans. Her gods and goddesses have a surprising, or perhaps not so surprising considering they are dying, amount of humanity in them. And it’s this struggle to find balance between being a god and being a human, most notable in the characters of Athena and Apollo, that makes Antigoddess such a compelling read.

I also loved how the same concepts of free will versus destiny that Homer presents in The Iliad and The Odyssey are also examined by Blake in Antigoddess. When humans are used as playthings and throwaways for the gods, Cassandra and some of the other characters in Antigoddess refuse to take this lying down. This, along side the questions of what it means to be divine and what it means to be human, are what elevate Antigoddess to a book that is not only entertaining but thought provoking as well. It is what makes Antigoddess not just a good book, but a GREAT book.

And hey, romance fans, you’ll be pleased to know that there is plenty and on two fronts. I have to say that I love both romances, one is unexpected and fresh and I’m excited about the direction it is moving in. The other love story is well underway at the book’s start, but it’s the way it changes over the course of the book, and especially at the end, that gives it the potential to become truly epic by the end of this series. Yeah, I’m being vague but if I said more it would spoil and that would suck because I really think all you romantics out there (like ME!) are going to like what Kendare Blake’s got going on here. I have HIGH hopes, you guys. High hopes:)

And speaking of that–wow I have a TON of theories about where exactly this series is heading. The ending of Antigoddess is not a cliffhanger but there was a rather shocking event that I did not expect at all. My mind has been working overtime since I finished reading, wondering and speculating about what will happen next. You guys, I am absolutely HOOKED and the wait for the next installment in The Goddess Wars will definitely be a long one for me.

So, the bottom line is this: if you love mythology and like mythological themes and retellings in the books you read, Antigoddess is NOT to be missed. I finished this book and immediately wanted to dig out my dusty copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey for a re-read. Do you have to know those classic stories or a lot about classical mythology to enjoy Antigoddess? HECK NO. But I hope that after reading it you’ll be encouraged to pick up those amazing stories and discover them for yourself.

Antigoddess moves to my favorites of 2013 list– nice job, Kendare Blake:)