Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Immortals (Olympus Bound #1) by Jordanna Max Brodsky

Selene wanders through the streets of New York city, helping women who have been preyed upon by men; she protects the innocent.  Unfortunately, Selene's power is waning and though it scares her, she also knows that it might be inevitable.  Shortly after hearing a summons from a true believer, things begin to change and Selene finds herself embroiled in a mission to find a man who murders women in order to complete and ancient ritual.  With Theo, a classics professor by her side, she faces a choice she could not have predicted. Will she remain Selene the private detective, or return to being the Goddess Artemis, with all the power, coldness, and anger this entails.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm going to straight up say, I am a huge mythology geek. When I realised that this book is about Greek gods living in the modern world, the only thing that would have given me pause before picking it up, is if it were paranormal romance or YA.  I'm happy to report that The Immortals is neither of the aforementioned and is actually quite grim and dark.  That being said, I must acknowledge that the premise - ancient Gods in our present times, is not something that is at all new; however, Brodsky does put an interesting twist on her story.

Once humanity stopped worshiping the Greek Gods, they found that their powers began to depart and so upon the orders of Zeus, the great diaspora began. Some Gods, like Dionysus mange to hold off the great fading because each night in bars across the world people still imbibe.  Apollo, God of music becomes an Indie Rock star and Hermes, the messenger benefits from things like branding through the apparel brand Herm√®s, and of course the fact that in the present, the transfer of information is faster than it ever has been. Even the little known Victory is doing well thanks to Nike. These Gods have managed to still to retain some of their strength but lose some of their talent - like Apollo's ability to heal or Hermes ability to fly for example have been forever lost. Not all Gods fared as well, Dionysus or Apollo.  Hestia, the Goddess of the Hearth for instance, simply faded away and died because she lacked the strength worship would have given her and because there's no place Goddess of the Hearth, in a world where people heat with gas or electric.  Though Artemis has many names, being the Goddess of the Hunt is a largely diminishing power in a world of factory farming. Still, Artemis insists om protecting the innocent and holding fast to her virginity.

Much is made of Artemis's virginity in The Immortals and her relationship with Orion. I must admit to being quite conflicted by it all.  On one hand, some would call Artemis explicitly feminist but then there is also the overt fixation on virginity and purity which stems from a place of misogyny and patriarchy. When you really think about the myths, Artemis is surrounded by rapist, even her father Zeus.  That being said, her constant hunting of men, combined with the over fixation on virginity was absolutely a problem for me.  To some degree, I would have preferred an asexual Artemis to the version we got in The Immortals.

As the protagonist of the story, Selene/Artemis left so much to be desired. I found her to be almost robotic.  Even in times when she was mourning for the loss of Orion, who had died millenniums ago, this character actually aroused very little sympathy from me.  Selene is neither human nor Goddess and thus she is very difficult to even remotely like, let alone identify with. Selene walks the street as a vigilante but not because she cares for women but because some part of her tells her to punish the men who hurt them. She is even willing to turn her back on a woman who returns to an abuser though we all know that there are multiple reasons why a woman may choose this option. Selene walks away from the few women she gets close to claiming that because she is a Goddess, she doesn't care about what happens to humans and yet, she is not a Goddess any longer.  I simply didn't like her as a protagonist at all.

On the other side of the equation is Selene's male love interest, the classics professor Theo. Unlike Selene, is easy to relate to, a bit of a geek, funny and very bright.  There is however a problem with his character.  For much of the book, though the character of Theo is male, he reads like an author insert. I understand a professor being excited about his life's work but Theo was at times pedantic. I felt like I was reading lecture notes and it took away from the story.  Yes, for The Immortals to work, the reader must understand the Elusinian Mysteries; however, the degree to which Theo broke down every little detail, despite the simplified version Brodsky featured in The Immortals, pulled me out of the story repeatedly.  The plot often suffered to get a point across regarding mythology or the value of mythology in the modern age.  This approach is not the wisest way to go about world building.  I firmly believe quite a lot of the mythos could have been cut out of the story to give us a much tighter meta.

In terms of inclusion, The Immortals could have done better. Yes, Brodsky did include LGBT people and POC; however, they were sideline characters at best.  Even Gabriela Jimenez, who was the most prominent marginalized person is easily expendable to the meta. The inclusion really comes down casual references with throw away lines like Aphrodite becoming a lesbian and traipsing across Paris. Including one tiny call out against racism of putting brown people in dioramas down the hall from dinosaurs in a museum doesn't make up for the tokenizing of GLBT people and people of colour. Even all of that could be forgotten but then there's unnecessary usage of an anti-gay slur by Dionysus. "Get real. Ever fag and hag in this city loves theater." Selene doesn't bother to call him out on his hate speech, leaving the reader to assume that the language is unacceptable because Dionysus is an asshole and not because anyone explicitly calls out the hate speech.

The Immortals unfortunately is not free from ableist language directed at Hephaestus, who largely exists as a cautionary tale as to what happens when someone crosses Zeus in this story and to provide magical weapons to the Gods. Apollo refers to him as a both a cripple and a gimp. He isn't really a person, he's a dysfunction with some useful talents. There is also the ubiquitous use of the word "crazy" as pejorative. This could have been handled so much better than it is in The Immortals.

The Immortals has a very slow start and didn't pick up until about halfway through which is the 200 page mark.  Even then, the pedantic nature of Brodsky's writing didn't always  make it a joy to read and I say that as a mythology geek.  The Immortals absolutely had it's moments of humor and even a surprise ending which caught me off guard.  Looking back, I can see that there were signs from the start as to who the antagonist would be, but I missed them.  I love the premise of The Immortals and the meta when Brodsky managed to get around to it in between her classics lectures. That being said, The Immortals is clearly an extremely well researched book.  I even enjoyed the manifestations of the Gods themselves and how she managed to place them so perfectly in modern NYC.  There are many great elements to this story, even if is over written.  I am afraid I am going to have to say that mileage may vary greatly on The Immortals.  Don't even pick it up if you are not heavily into mythology and even then, be prepared to sit through a lecture of sorts.  I do want to see where this world is going in the hopes that now that Brodsky has established it so strongly, we can move onto an interesting story.