Book Review and Giveaway: The Younger Gods

The Younger Gods by Micheal R. Underwood

The Younger Gods - cover

Jacob had what could understatedly be called an unusual upbringing by an occultist family in North Dakota. But these aren’t just any crazies living off the grid–Jake is from the Greene family, a group of fanatics who believe they’re going to be the ones to bring about the Apocalypse by releasing the Younger Gods of the Deep into the human world and ushering in the last age of man. This–and a graphic incident where Jake’s only childhood friend is tricked into getting his heart cut out on prom night–causes Jake to flee from his family and move to New York City. Jake hopes to leave all of his occult baggage behind him, but when his sister, Esther, begins committing ritualistic sacrifices in Central Park, he knows he’s the only one who can stop her.

Jake enlists the help of his Nephilim roommate (Carter), the daughter of a voodoo high priestess (Antoinette), an ex-NYPD cop turned supernatural soldier (Dorthea), and a smorgasbord of other denizens of New York that are involved in the supernatural community. During the best moments, the complex supernatural network is reminiscent of what I loved about Neil Gaimen’s Neverwhere; we’re treated to what feels like the tip of the iceberg of a vast and complex world. The aspects of supernatural New York are deftly woven with the aspects of what makes real New York unique, and this story definitely feels like it couldn’t have taken place anywhere else but New York. That said, you’ll enjoy this story more if you like New York or buy into the mystique (and what I personally consider the myth) of what makes New York special. If you’re a bit ‘meh’ on New York in general, then the little details of this book might just make you role your eyes. The major plot of the book is Jake & Co. going around to each burrough to alert and then help protect the five hearts of New  York. If you just rolled your eyes at that line, you probably shouldn’t read this book because this plot consumes the majority of the story.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, and it’s never lacking in action. There were points where I almost felt that too much was happening too fast, but this is intentional because Jake & Co. are always one step (or in some cases, a hundred steps) behind Esther, who’s an incredibly powerful sorceress. The many action set pieces are inventive, so the story never drags, but it deprives the story of the space to do a bit more character building. There is so much in this novel–so many characters, so many set pieces–that I found myself wishing that the ‘less is more’ approach had been taken; Dorthea, Antoinette, and Carter are integral members of Jake’s team (and the only thing he has comparable to friends), but it takes nearly half the novel to get any sense of who they are and really begin to root for them. The relationship and understanding that develops between Jake and Carter is subtle and well-done, but it’s the only major character development that any of the side characters gets in the story.

The best two characters in the novel by far are Jake and Esther. Jake is an awkward home-schooled kind raised by what are essentially fundamentalist parents (just the Satanic and not the Christian variety), and that aspect of his character is played straight and for laughs. Jake misses the multitude of pop-cultural references the other characters sling around, but there’s a wounded aspect to his personality; this battle is personal to him. Esther is determined to fulfill her life’s purpose as the scion of the Greene family and bring about the birth of the Younger Gods. She’s incredibly powerful and a stone-cold psycho. The best moments in the story are between Esther and Jake; even when they’re just talking, it’s a battle. I wish we could’ve had more chapters from Esther’s perspective because she’s a zealot who’s committed to her cause, and when you get to see how cunning and single-minded she is in her pursuit, everything else Jake & Co. are doing starts to feel less like plot dressing and more like high stakes.

There’s a wonderful twist on the Apocalypse in this book, but even before that, there’s a lot going on under the surface of this action packed story. The diversity of New York is a major aspect of what makes this story work, and Dorthea explaining why she quit her job as a cop to become a supernatural protector of ‘the people who fall through the cracks’ helped focus the aspect of what this novel was really about. There’s no ‘special’ supernatural place for the homeless in New York to hide, though, so they really do need someone like Dorthea around to protect them from literal spirits of garbage and decay. This aspect of the city is deftly mixed with Jake coming to terms with his heritage as he begins to integrate into the NYC supernatural community, revealing that he, too, is a Greene. He questions whether his family really loved him or if people that twisted are even capable of love; he can’t tell the lies from the truth in his childhood.

Random Thoughts:

  • When the first line includes “drastically fewer blood sacrifices with dinner”, I knew this was my type of book.
  • There’s a nice parallel between what it means to work on a group project vs. what it means to really work as a group.
  • I’m really fine being a tourist in NYC. There were parts of this book where I was like ‘yeah, I’m living as close to that city as I ever want to live.’
  • I wanted to eat Indian food after this one scene. So…good…
  • I’ve never read a character who reminded me more of Castiel than Jake did. This is not a bad thing.

Read if: You’re a fan of New Weird. There’s no place more urban than New York, either, and there’s no place else I could’ve imagined this story happening because there are so many people in that city. There’s a lot of different ideas woven throughout this story, and it stands on it’s own while also being the gateway into a bigger series.

Beware if: Books with too much action make you feel like you’re having a seizure.

My rating: 4, and mostly because I kind of don’t get New York, and some of this kept me from connecting with the characters and larger, thematic elements of this story. That said, this book is a ride, and the conflict between Jake and Esther never bored me.

BONUS!

The first two people to reply in the comments get a free ebook of The Younger Gods, courtesy of Pocket Star. You must leave you internet nom de plume as well as a VALID, non-spam email address.

Book review: Dead Iron

Dead Iron by Devon Monk

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book; I read it really quickly, knew I liked the writing style, but I was unsure how I felt about the overall story, and then it took a full 48 hours to sink in—this book was flipping great. The writing is snappy, the story is fast-paced, and the characters are all fleshed out, and I felt like I knew them all instantly.

Cedar Hunt is a hunter with a curse and an equally tragic past sans curse; he plays the trope of the Iron Woobie straight, and that’s fine because the character’s written well here. Rose Smalls, Shard LeFel, and Mae Lindstron flesh out the four main characters, and all of them have significant plot in this book. Mae is a witch whose husband Jeb has gone missing, and she fears he’s dead (she’s partially right). Rose is a town girl with a head for mechanics (it is Steampunk, after all), some magical energy about her, and a personality that’s too big for a town obsessed with marrying off daughters at 16. Shard LeFel is an evil son-of-a-bitch, and he’s the main antagonist in the novel.

The plot revolves around LeFel wanting to go back to his magical other realm; he’s 300 years old, and his time on earth is up. If he doesn’t get back, he dies. LeFel is being pursued by the Madder brothers, three ‘men’ who are also long-lived beings (the aspect of what they are is unclear to me, although my guess would be something akin to fae). The big plot is about LeFel trying to get back home, which involves three sacrifices and a MacGuffin. But let’s not dwell too much on the overall plot, which sometimes feels like a sideshow to the journeys Mae, Cedar, Jeb, and Rose go on; this isn’t a dig on the main plot—it’s an electric ride with plenty of scares—but I cared about the character’s personal journeys a lot more than the main plot. This may bother some people, but the characters were awesome and kept me wanting to read more.

There’s many layers to this book, which is impressive considering how much of the plot I’ve written about in this review already. But there’s so much more–maybe too much for some, but the plethora of ideas and depth of world-building always is subserviant to the characters and their arcs. From early in the book, I guessed how it might end, and while there were no real surprises for me, the final confrontation was satisfying. The emotional moments in this book may not register for those who don’t like gritty Westerns, but I think that element elevated this story for me.

The part of the book that wore on me the most was aspects of the steam punk world. I get it, steam punk is atmospheric, and gadgets are nifty, but sometimes the action and horror get bogged down in what all the devices look like. Also, we’ve seen a hot air balloon before, so introducing one in-world as if it’s very novel just doesn’t build to the same level as, say, the three sacrifices moment it’s juxtaposed against.

I know I love a book when I find myself shouting at the pages or computer screen; I did that several times during this book. The characters are all well-done versions of their respective tropes, so while I didn’t find any of them surprising (there is a sequel…), I found them all interesting. The world building is there, but the main thing you need to know is that it’s a Western Steampunk with paranormal elements. The plot never slows down and is unusually straight forward for urban fantasy (seriously, you know 95% of what you need to know for the plot by chapter 3), so the story utilizes the dramatic tension of knowing LeFel has the prisoners juxtaposed against Cedar, Mae, Rose, and Jeb’s problems to solve their respective missions. In a less skilled hand, this might’ve failed spectacularly to create tension, but the characters are well crafted. What I’m saying is read it to find out for yourself.

Random Thoughts:

  • I seriously kept waiting for this book to take a True Blood turn in the relationship department. Monk restrains herself (that’s what sequels are for).
  • LeFel and Mr. Shunt are nasty villians. Seriously surprised LeFel didn’t twirl a mustache at some point.
  • Rose might seem a bit useless, but she’s clearly in here for sequel bait.

Read if: you’re an urban fantasy fan that wished True Grit (the remake) should’ve included some werewolves.

Beware if: you have a low tolerance for steam punk mixed into your urban fantasy. Also, if you like romance, this book isn’t for you.

My rating: 5 stars for having a full story, teasing the sequel, and being unable to get off my brain.