My rating: 2 of 5 stars
May I say, before I begin, you will need a bit of patience to read this book. Nothing of real interest happens until the later half and then it all happens really fast.
If I had to compare this book to a movie, it would the Marvel Avengers, because even though you know three-fourths of the movie is plain junk, you still watch it for the awesome ending and for the sheer fan-girl-joy of it. (Yay, the Hulk! And Hawkeye! And Iron Man!)
It might be because I’ve been reading many YA books lately, but I really didn’t find anything of interest in the first half of the book. We have a (so-far) whiny heroine, who doesn’t behave with any of the maturity she wants to be treated with and her apparently TSTL best friend, who is pining after her but is afraid of losing their friendship (while doing precisely all the things calculated to lead to their estrangement.)
Enter mysterious golden boy with a totally bad pun for a name, Dev (and this isn’t the last one) who knows all, sees all, bores all. And no, Devendra is not a unisex name.
Yeah, I really don’t care about you.
The author sacrifices our interest in at least the mythology part of the book, in favour of keeping us in the dark. A good indication of a paper thin plot, if any. We are also introduced to the family, by the way, who also have ludicrous names. I mean, come on, Sam is short for Samsar? And Sophia? If she is as North Indian and Hindu as this book makes her out to be, she wouldn’t have that name. But anyway, moving on.
So there is lot of angst etc etc for everyone involved; Sera because she’s having bad dreams and her parents are acting overprotective and tightlipped. Oh and she is one of those ostracised-because-she’s-different girls; she’s been bullied, sneered at and all that. I have no clue why she couldn’t just be a loner because this particular detail seems to have no impact on her later character development at all.
Kyle (Sera’s BFF) is suffering because he has an unrequited love for her, he can see auras, he’s deathly afraid of the book’s version of hell, Xibalba (more on that later) and he can’t tell Sera any of this due to his BURGEONING DARK PAST. Don’t ask me why, it’s one of those I-could-tell-you-but-I-would-have-to-kill-you things. Apparently.
That is how tired these tropes are.
It goes on sluggishly, with everyone that is not Sera attempting to be subversive, evasive and cloaked in mystery, but just ending up plain annoying instead. Even after she finds out that she is goddess.
But then, once the war really gets going, Sera steps up. As characterisation goes, the change is pretty abrupt, but she becomes more mature, level headed and open minded. She becomes a leader, so even though it is kind of unbelievable, it is way better than having a mopey MC till the end. Kyle’s characterisation is also interesting, his helpless jealousy and identity crisis is rather well done. I personally felt a bit detached from his bloodline conflict; it never seemed to me like his humanity really was at risk (plus there were the obvious parallels to Sera’s parents), but that might just be me.
Among the other characters, Sera’s dad, “Sam”, is the only one that really appealed to me. He fits more into the image of a loving parent than Sophia, who just seems to be suffering from a nervous breakdown. He is gentle and understanding, more mindful of the fact that Sera is a teenager in an impossible situation and totally in the dark. Ironic, considering he was the Asura (yeah thats how it’s spelled, despite all the fancy spelling otherwise.)
And that brings to the thing I have been itching to talk about since the beginning of this post, the mythology. GODS HELP ME. I’ll just make a list of the unintentionally humorous and intentionally odd (I will not say stupid) aspects of the book:
1. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…not. –
I really have to come back to this. Anglicised Hindi-Sanskrit words are one thing. I got over Sanrak, the guardians (it should be Samrakh; I know, I thought it was some kind of asbestos too), I got over the names of the various lords of hell (Dekaias, Temlucus, blatantly Greek names; what the hell kind of name is windy-goo?), I even got over the tragic parody that is Serjana’s name (I still don’t know what it means. Is her surname Irish?) What I could not digest is the grammatically incorrect Anglicised Hindi.
Let me explain.
When it is first mentioned, the Big Three of Hindu myths are referred to in plural as the Trimurtas. Forget that no self-respecting Indian who knows English would write in that way. Forget that its overtly westernised Hindi slang. What I take issue with is the later use of this word, and I quote:
“But you…you’re…Trimurtas,” she stuttered.
“But if he knows we’re coming, won’t Dev be heavily guarded, especially if they know he’s Trimurtas?”
“Give me the boy and the Trimurtas in exchange for your son’s life.”
As you can see, it ok to just use the already troped, twisted word in both plural and singular as you feel like it, even if it a major joke on linguistics.
2. Hinduism has over 30 million gods, including the Greek, Mexican, African and Arctic ones –
I do not mind that the author has not stuck strictly to the myths in Hinduism. The creative license is her right after all, and I just see it as an interpretation of the stories. But that is no excuse of making a stew out of it. Take Xibalba for instance. If you are going to the extent of basing an entire novel and its characters on one mythology, then you might as well be consistent and not name its hell after the MAYAN underworld. Or its demons after NATIVE INDIAN spirits. Or the home of the gods after the GREEK happy retirement home for the dead. It was already a stretch of my imagination since Hinduism does not have a defined hell or heaven (because of the idea of reincarnation) but then that JAPANESE nekomata came in and I gave up.
3. Do I look fat in this? No wait, I’ll just rewrite it –
The other major inconsistency in the book was the appearances of the characters. Kyle is first described as having a green mohawk and the sides of his head are shaved to show off tattoos. Ok, not that I have any clue how curly hair can be mohawked?, but anyway. But then, since the style is obviously PG rated, he decides to go easy on the hair gel and we get this glaring discrepancy:
“His springy dark carls fell around his face.” and “He tucked some wet ringlets behind his ears.”
So finally, this is the image I had of him:
We also have Sera’s mother being described as typically North Indian with dark hair and later having blonde hair. Sigh. Even Kyle’s image and behaviour are inconsistent – he dresses like a goth and hangs out with murderous, bloodthirsty demonic beings, but gets embarrassed every time he sees a Public Display of Affection by Sera’s parents. The heights of it is when he looks away quickly after seeing (gasp!) Azrath’s legs when the spilt of the dress falls open. Really. A guy disguised as a woman showing off his legs and you’re blushing. And the book is set where? Did you say America? Good to know.
5. If it’s not poetry, it must be… –
The language of the book is its lowest point, as far as I’m concerned. Its extremely forced, clunky and seems to have a number of typos. It oscillates between tacky teen talk and garbled ancient wisdom. There also some inadvertently hilarious moments:
“Sera grinned at his expression. “Tell you what, once we find Nate, breakfast on me.” “
No, that is not suggestive at all.
This gem is just plain weird:
“So…about the giant gorilla in the car ,”
What? Where? I didnt see it! What did you say? It was a figure of speech? I thought…oh never mind.
We have the villain being helpful:
“This form is of my own choosing. I hardly think you would want to see the very person you were here to save, now would you?”
That’s handy. I thought you’d take the opportunity to shape shift into Dev, confuse them and create more mayhem, but this is very sweet of you. Feel free to continue.
And finally, as Kyle says to Dev,
“You’re probably the only person who’d allow someone you love to love someone else just for the sake of love.”
No buddy, it’s because you haven’t read Twilight. Check it out, there are actually more synonyms for love there.
I have to say that the love triangle here is well done; no one tries to play the noble hero and the heroine does not spend 80% of her time moping about which guy to pick. She does think about it, but she’s the first to admit that she can’t pick between them, because she loves them differently. She has a very calm attitude towards it. Dev’s acceptance of Kyle is also believable; it is painful for him, but he knows he has eternity with her. Kyle’s frank jealousy is refreshing too.
Another good thing about the book is the major butt-kicking Sera does. True, it came 200 pages too late, but better late than never. There is a completely awesome scene where she kills a couple of demons by flipping her swords backwards. She doesn’t even turn around. You go gal. She can also mould the weapons from the tyre as she pleases, making her a very flexible fighter. Oh, and she can fly. Yeah, Sera 2.0 is awesome.
I also have to appreciate the fact that Howard chooses to give asuras the possibility of being good here. Even in India, they are generally viewed as the eternal bad guys, but in fact, there are a few that had hearts of gold. Sera’s father represents that moral choice and I really liked the fact that the asuras weren’t stereotyped too much. Definitely a point for open mindedness.
In conclusion, Alpha Goddess is not really a bad book, its just not a fantastic book. It doesn’t exactly do anything very new, just places the same old story in a different mythology. Most of my complaints stem from the fact I’m an Indian and a Hindu, so some stuff is all Malbolge to me, but this may not affect another reader as much. If you’re not nitpicky about details and you want a decent read that doesn’t strain your brain too much, while delivering all the necessary elements, Alpha Goddess is for you. For me, at the very least, it was a good break.
*All of the above quotes were taken from an ARC from Netgalley. I do not own any of the material in the quotes and many thanks to the publishers for giving me an opportunity to review this book.*