The final volume in Kendare Blake's 'Goddess War' trilogy is when things really get serious. The primary characters, Greek gods, who have discovered that they aren't quite as immortal as they had previously believed, spent two books mostly waiting for bad things to happen to them while they struggled with the concept that they could, but that changed at the end of 'Mortal Gods' and continued on here with a vengeance.
Just as 'Antigoddess' ended with a battle between the two factions that left some immortals dead, 'Mortal Gods' does likewise, but on Olympus and in a way that shakes up the entire trilogy. As 'Ungodly' begins, the faction that we've been following has been split into parts, each of which is following its own path for its own reasons.
Cassandra, the modern reincarnation of the seer from the Trojan War who was cursed to see the future but never be believed, has lost people that she cared about and has had enough of it. She's apparently supposed to be a weapon that can kill gods, so she's going to travel around and do just that, starting with the ones who killed her friends. She starts this book in LA with Calypso, trying to track down Hades and finding Thanatos instead. While Hades is the God of Death, Thanatos is the embodiment of Death himself, but Cassandra finds she can't kill him. That's a neat twist, just as the fact that the world sees her as a runaway for not going back home to upstate New York is a neat shift from the convenience of the previous books.
Her brother, Henry, and best friend, Andie, do make it back to Kincaid and carry on regardless. They become a couple and try to help Hermes as much as they can, even though he's getting weaker by the day. They go to see Demeter to try to figure out the next step of action and Hermes interprets her words as meaning that they should find Hephaestus and have him forge a new shield for Hector to match the one he made for Achilles back in the Trojan War.
Hermes has to figure things out because Athena is AWOL too. She's down in the Underworld with Odysseus and unwilling to leave until Hades allows her to do certain things that aren't generally done. So much for being the leader of this merry band; she's falling prey to the humanity that she's acquiring along with her mortality.
And, of course, the other side is on the move too, though doing things that might seem surprising but do make coherent sense. What's more, the real impetus behind the trilogy-spanning plot is beginning to become clear and that will change a few things as key players realise what the real task at hand is shaping up to be.
I enjoyed 'Ungodly' more than its two predecessors, because the good in them is expanded here and the bad in them is diffused. Characters who should have asked many questions about what was going on are finally dragged into the story and exposed to the fantastic truth. Each of the major players has to struggle with what they are becoming and that includes gods, mortals and the ones who were the latter but are becoming more of the former. I appreciated how each of these struggles unfolds differently as it ably highlights how each of these characters are different.
I also enjoyed how it felt a little more grown up. I don't want to diss YA fiction, but the first two books had an undertone of characters being unwilling to do things for various reasons, an understandable but often lazy response to major events. In this book, that's entirely gone. While things often don't work out how characters want them to, they dive in and do what needs to be done anyway. The strength of character is vastly superior in this book, appropriate for the concluding part of a trilogy.
New characters continue to join the story, but perhaps a little less frequently here. Hephaestus is a wonderful new addition and Thanatos is a resonant one, but I was keen to see who else might show up and was disappointed to find that it turned out to be so few. In fact, I was keen to discover how a particular couple of gods would factor into this story and they either never showed up or were only mentioned in passing.
I also wondered if Blake chickened out of killing a few of her key characters here. While not everyone who begins the book remains alive by the end, I felt that a few more needed to die to maintain the emotional impact and she might have become too attached to a couple of them to allow that to happen.
As a whole, the 'Goddess War' is an enjoyable, if not greatly challenging ride that explores the richness of Greek mythology, not only by throwing ancient characters into a contemporary setting but also by examining their roles. At its heart, this series questions what being a god really means and what being a hero really means. It seems like the people who have filled those roles for thousands of years don't really know and have just taken their status for granted. Now things have changed, they have to discover who they are and what they mean, not only to themselves but to others and that's a wild ride.
Outside of the Goddess War' trilogy, Kendare Blake has written a YA horror series currently comprising 'Anna Dressed in Blood' and 'Girl of Nightmares'. I have the former and, after some other priorities, will be interested to see how that reads. ~~ Hal C F Astell
Click here for a review of Antigoddess and here for a review of Mortal Gods