Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It’s always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall.
Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld—and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.
Kate is sure he’s crazy—until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.
Thoughts: I would like to take a moment here to say just how surprised I was at how much I enjoyed this novel. I expected to at least like it, or else I wouldn’t have read it, but I didn’t expect to like it quite as much as I did. Carter did some amazing things with this novel that allowed it to not only have an appeal to those who really love their romance, but also for those who prefer their romance on the side, as a sub-plot rather than the main driving force. That is a hard balance to achieve, and that the author managed it is worthy of praise in itself.
The story centres around Kate, who is moving to her mother’s hometown in order to accommodate her mother’s last wishes to die in the place she spent her childhood. Kate’s struggle in coming to grips with the fact that her mother is dying before her eyes and doesn’t have long left to live is very keenly expressed through the story, the holding pattern between pain and loss grips the reader’s heart and helps establish a real connection with Kate as a character.
But her mother’s hometown, Eden, isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. Before long, Kate gets wrapped up in a complex and emotional plot after meeting a boy named Henry, and seeing him bring a girl back from the dead. Knowing that the story has heavy ties to Greek mythology, it’s no real surprise that Henry’s price for bringing Ava back to life is for Kate to re-enact the story of Persephone, and to live with him between the autumn and spring equinoxes. When Kate consents to pay this price, she discovers that this isn’t just a one-time deal, that Henry expects this to go on not just for the rest of Kate’s life but for eternity.
And that’s where things get really interesting!
Aimee Carter plays with Greek mythology in ways that make the tales spread far beyone the time that we associate with them, explaining that the gods have existed for all time, since before things had names, and even though they’re most popularly known by their Greek names, they frequently appear under other names, changing them as the times and places change. The gods are embodiments of concepts and ideas, and Carter takes the time to establish that they are not omnipotent and omniscient, that they are more human than people typically think of them. This, too, is nicely fitting with their expression in Greek myth, which is one of the things I have always loved about different mythologies. Gods as distant and untouchable beings have never appealed to me. Gods I can relate to, see reflections in, now they’re the ones I want to have around!
Ditto the concept of the afterlife that was played with in The Goddess Test. Not just one afterlife, but an afterlife shaped by the expectations of the dead, what they expect to have happen and what they deserve to have happen, helped along by judges who must know to judge fairly. I liked this, and in no small part because it matches my own views on such things.
Props to Carter as well for striking a fine balance in the character of Henry, also known as Hades. Which anyone who knows Greeky myths will know that Hades is not the Greek version of Satan and actually can be a sympathetic character, Henry’s character went beyond merely “sympathetic.” I thought more than once that it would have been very easy to turn Henry into a “pity me” kind of character, one who bemoans that history has maligned his image, one who feels deep grief over his appointed task, and who is essentially an emo boy. This was, happily, not the case. Henry could be loving and kind, but he could also be hard, cold, unflinching when he dished out his judgments.
But what is particularly noteworthy about this novel is the romance. I expected a book from Harlequin to do what I find so annoying in other books, for Kate to have her breath taken away by Henry and to spend the book pining after him and for the two of them to awkwardly discover their feelings for each other, etc. This was, delightfully, not the case. Kate doesn’t really start to feel much for Henry until the book’s half over. They kiss for the first time around the 75% mark. Most of Kate’s thoughts are taken up by her dying mother and her strange new life in a tiny piece of the land of the dead, and her developping attraction to Henry was slow and believable, taking place over the course of 4 or 5 months. I only wish that more teen romances would take this approach, as they’d be a lot more tolerable to read.
A nice twist to the established mythology, and update on what we think we know, and a delight to read, The Goddess Test exceeded my expectations, and I’m quite looking forward to reading the sequel. If it’s anything like this first book, I know I’m going to love it.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)