The Woken Gods, by Gwenda Bond

Strange Chemistry seem to have a knack for finding good authors and books, and today’s reviewed book is no exception!

wokengods  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Author’s website
Publication date – September 3, 2013

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The more things change…

Five years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke all around the world.

The more things stay the same…

This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school because of an argument with her father.

Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., dominated by the embassies of divine pantheons and watched over by the mysterious Society of the Sun that governs mankind’s relations with the gods. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods on her way home, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne “Oz” Spencer, a young Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous Egyptian relic. The Society needs the item back, and they aren’t interested in her protests that she knows nothing about it or her father’s secrets.

Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary Sumerian gods, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz–whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn’t? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it. From the author of Blackwood comes a fresh, thrilling urban fantasy that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Rick Riordan.

Thoughts: Bond showed us her imaginative talent first in Blackwood, and has now given us yet more to love with The Woken Gods.

The story is told primarily from Kyra’s point of view, using the first-person viewpoint, with brief breaks into third-person limited to show the perspectives of other characters integral to the plot. Far from being a series of jarring transitions, they actually serve very well to add additional — and often vital — information to the plot, and come across more like the camera panning back for a moment instead of unnecessary word-padding. And when we’re seeing things from Kyra’s point of view, the narrative is very much as someone would think, complete with slang, Buffyspeak descriptions, and the skewed perspective of a teenager in a very bizarre and tense situation. Bond seems to have quite the talent for writing interesting and believable teenagers. Kyra’s sarcastic commentary and observations do wonders to put the reader into the proper mindset of a suitably rebellious teen.

And I do mean ‘suitably.’ Kyra has her rebellious streak, but she’s not the kind of self-righteous brat often seen in portrayals of rebellion. She knows exactly why she acts out. Her mother is absent, her father is gone more often than not and doesn’t seem to have much interest in Kyra, and what she wants more than anything is to get him to admit that she matters. Negative attention being better than no attention. But it’s not a “pity-me” fest, either, as we see that habits have formed and even she admit she needles him pointlessly sometimes. Tremendously realistic, and Kyra’s self-realization is not outside the realm of possibility, either.

In Kyra’s world, the gods have awoken. All of them. From all times, places, and pantheons. And are interacting with humanity once more. The ones most sympathetic to humanity are the tricksters, the ones who have historically been untrustworthy and unpredictable in order to teach lessons to gods and mortals alike. Between the gods’ own plans, the Society, and Kyra’s own family, she has her hands full. Her father has been branded a traitor, her mother is an insane prophet, and multiple gods seem to have their eyes on her for reasons of their own.

The story is fast-paced, interesting to the end, and full of twists that kept me turning pages. Bond played with some very interesting concepts here, and did so tastefully, with thought-provoking detail. I won’t deny that there were some slightly awkward infodumping now and again, but those moments were few and far between, and did at least serve a purpose when things wouldn’t necessarily have been clear to the reader. (We’re not all very familiar with Sumerian myths, after all.)

And since it must be mentioned, the romance was very well done here. It added to the story rather than distracting from it, providing interest and enhancing character dynamics rather than just drowning the reader in obsessive mush. Characters had feelings for each other, but didn’t spend chapter and chapters dwelling on them, and were more than capable of putting them aside when the moment called for it. This is how I prefer my romance in fiction, and the author may as well have tailor-made this thing for me in many ways.

Between the diverse cast of interesting characters, the creative plot, and the engaging writing style, The Woken Gods has a guaranteed place on my shelves for a long time to come. YA fans who enjoy a departure from standard material, female protagonists who can stand on their own two feet, and a wild creative ride will do well to check this one out.

(Received from the publisher for review via NetGalley.)

Interview with Gwenda Bond

Last week, I reviewed Gwenda Bond’s debut novel, Blackwood (review here), and I thought that it would be a nice follow-up to get to know a little more about the woman behind the story, the mind that made the novel run. Happily, she agreed to be interviewed by me, and the answers she gave to my questions were quite interesting! So let’s get right down to it, and learn more about the talented Gwenda!

  1) I’m sure you get this all the time, but what was it that made you want write about such a well-known American mystery? What about that legend drew you to it?
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Lost Colony, and unsolved mysteries and legends. My husband and I have a bookcase or two’s worth of nonfiction titles about the unexplained (Blackwood’s prologue is a hat tip to those kind of books) and oddities of history, and so on. The Lost Colony is something that’s been rattling around in the back of my mind since I was a kid in history class and first heard about it, but I can’t really say what sparked the idea for the book. I know when I got it (on a road trip, when we saw a sign for Roanoke), but I don’t know why then. I think as writers we just fill our heads with everything and wait to see what bubbles up to the top out of our fascinations and interests.

2) Would you like to see more books that approach local legends as you did with Blackwood, adding a supernatural twist and making them resonate with the modern world?
I’ve come to realize that if there’s any pattern in the kind of story I’m attracted to as a writer, it’s somehow mixing and then exploring the clash between the past and present. I’m personally not interested in writing historical fiction (though I have the utmost admiration for people who pull it off), so I tend to bring some part of the past to now in one way or another and see what happens as a result. I do love reading stories where inspiration is drawn from legends or history or myths and am always down with a supernatural twist.

3) Miranda had a nice geekish streak to her, and it was really fun to see that in her character. What are your geeky interests?
Ah! So many! I’m a complete nerd, though in somewhat different ways than Miranda. Our tastes overlap in places, but others are purely hers. As I’ve already mentioned, I love anything esoteric; when I was Miranda’s age, my favorite section of the bookstore (besides fiction) was probably Sociology, because it was where all the weird, random books were. So books about cryptozoology or the history of circus freak shows or bizarre old (or new) scientific beliefs or wacky explorers, but I also read a ton of fiction. And I watch a lot of television; probably too much, except I get prickly when people are disdainful of TV.

4) What about guilty pleasures? Everyone’s got a good guilty pleasure!
I don’t really feel guilty about anything I enjoy, so this is tough. Well, maybe America’s Next Top Model. Not guilty, per se, but I recognize it’s probably not the 100 percent best use of my time and yet I can’t. stop. watching. No matter how bad it gets.

5) (SPOILER ALERT) One thing that thrilled me while I was reading Blackwood is that you didn’t decide to kill off Sidekick. So many books and movies will throw in an animal companion solely for the purpose of tugging at your heartstrings when they die. Does it bother you when this occurs in media? Or do you see it in a different light?
Yes, and I do have thought on this in a larger sense and specific to Blackwood. Sidekick is the only character in the book based on my real life; he was inspired by our beloved golden retriever George Rowe the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values, who passed away several years ago. So Sidekick is my way of memorializing George and giving him immortality, in a sense. There is NO WAY I would have killed him off. And, like you, I am often bothered by stories that use animal deaths in a manipulative way. It can be a dealbreaker, particularly if not done well. And I just don’t like reading stories with animal deaths (and I realize there’s a disconnect in that I have zero problem reading stories where murders of humans happen; it’s just different emotionally for me), so it has to be necessary to the story for me to not want to throw the book across the room. I don’t want to give too specific an example, because that’d be spoilery, but I will say one of the best stories I’ve read that features animal suffering is Katherine Applegate’s middle grade novel The One and Only Ivan. You will cry, but the emotion is earned by an ultimately hopeful story that deals with the exploitation of animals in an honest way.

6) Of course, I have to ask the question that every authors gets asked a million and one times in their career: what was it that really made you decide that writing was the path in life that you wanted to take? Did the writing bug bite you at an early age, or did it develop over time?
I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid—before I could even read, I would cart around books and make up stories that went along with the pictures and do my best to make letters by randomly drawings swirls on paper. I took a detour after college and wrote scripts for a few years, before I had this epiphany that brought me back to my first love, books. And there were all these wonderful YA novels coming out (this was in the early to mid-2000s) and I felt like I finally understood what kind of stories I wanted to tell.

7) Do you think you’ll stick with YA novels instead of novels for an older age group?
I’d never say never to writing for adults or, for that matter, for younger children, but so far the stories I’ve wanted to tell have been firmly YA. It’s what I’ve been drawn to, and there’s so much freedom in YA to mix and match genres. It’s a fun and exciting literary landscape to be in right now. But, that said, if I had the right idea, I’d follow it wherever it was best suited. I’d love to have a strong middle grade story idea, but it hasn’t happened yet. I do believe that YA is for everyone, and not just teens.

8) Similar to the above question, what was it about writing for a YA audience that attracted you more than writing for an older audience?
Honestly, it really is just my natural voice—at least so far. But it has been amazing talking to teens who have read the book. I do think the reading experiences you have at those ages can be more profound and exciting, in many ways, than the ones you have as an adult, and that’s very appealing for a writer. And teen readers are so smart and take-no-b.s., and also open and enthusiastic about the things that resonate with them.

9) What kind of books do you enjoy reading in your spare time?
Everything! I read a fair amount of YA (and still review it for Locus), but also adult fantasy, mystery, (so-called) literary fiction, and romances. Nonfiction I now mostly read as research or to spark ideas. The bulk of my reading is fiction.

10) I see from your bio that you live in Kentucky? Having never been there myself, I have to ask: what do you like about living there? Would you choose Kentucky over any other place in the world to live, or is there somewhere else that you’d love to settle down in?
Well, I’m from Kentucky. I grew up in a very small town—one stoplight, which was 20 minutes from my house—and when I was there, all I wanted was to get away. I dreamed of having been born in a big city (and I do love big cities). And I’ve traveled quite a bit. But when I got older, I appreciated growing up where I did. Yes, there are problematic things about Kentucky, but—like the rest of the south—I also think that it is a far more complex place than impressions and depictions that come from outside make it out to be. I live now in a mid-sized city, Lexington, with my husband, also an author and from small-town Kentucky, and it’s a very progressive town with a lot of exciting things happening. We have a vibrant literary culture. Kentucky in general, I think, really values storytelling and writing, and there are many wonderful writers from here and fabulous bookstores. The cost of living is low; we have a great old house that we’d never have been able to afford in a bigger city, with a yard our two dogs can run around in. Our families are not that far away. That’s not to say we’ll never move or split our time between here and elsewhere, but we do have deep roots in Kentucky and are happy here.

11) What’s your own take on the idea of immortality? Is it something that you think we’ll eventually reach, or is it a pie-in-the-sky dream?
Interesting question. I don’t think we’ll ever reach it, at least not in a physical sense. I’m not current enough on the science to know how feasible it is that our consciousnesses could ever be preserved in some way electronically. But it seems to violate a fundamental law of nature, where the great constant is death. And I’m not sure I think we should want to. Would I like an extended life span or cures for debilitating conditions or slowed-down aging? Who wouldn’t? But immortality seems like it would ruin living in some ways. I side with Phillips on this one.

12) Lastly, can you give us any tantalizing tidbits about your next novel? I know I, at least, am looking forward to seeing what you’ll come out with next!
Yay, so lovely to hear it! My next book will be The Woken Gods, probably out next summer or fall (not quite sure) from Strange Chemistry. It’s an urban fantasy set in a near future where the gods of ancient mythology awoke, all around the world, ten years earlier. The story takes place in a transformed Washington, D.C., that has become the meeting ground for a no-longer-secret society headquartered in the Library of Congress and a council made up of the seven tricksters who are the gods’ main emissaries to humanity. A 17-year-old girl, Kyra Locke, gets pulled into political intrigue between all of the above. I’m excited about it, though also nervous, because as you can probably tell it’s a bit different than Blackwood.

—————————————————————–

Thank you once again forallowing me to interview you!

I’ve got to say, I think I’ll be all over that book when it’s released. Really, she’s hitting all the right buttons with me when it comes to that synopsis, and after reading Blackwood, I’m more than willing to give The Woken Gods a chance. (Especially seeing as how I mentioned on another blog recently that one thing I want to see more of in genre fiction is stuff where ancient gods awake and interact with the modern world. The timing on this couldn’t be better!)

Blackwood, by Gwenda Bond

  Buy from Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, or IndieBound

Author’s website
Publication date – September 4, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.

Blackwood is a dark, witty coming of age story that combines America’s oldest mystery with a thoroughly contemporary romance.

Thoughts: As much as I read YA novels, I can be extraordinarily picky about them. Too much romance, too much stereoptypically girly stuff, too many cases of teenagers outsmarting adults, and I just get turned right off. I can accept that the writing in those books can be good, but they’re really just not for me.

And as much as I was willing to take a chance on it, I feared that Blackwood would be the same. Full of stuff I couldn’t relate to and had little interest in.

Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t.

There is romance (there are precious few YA paranormal novels that don’t involve romance), but it wasn’t of the sappy “one true love” variety that’s saturating the market these days. You’ve got two people in a tense and dangerous situation who appear to understand each other better than anyone else they’ve come across. True, atfirst the romance did seem a little bit contrived (here’s a boy and a girl, and they’re important to the plot, so they have to get together), but as we read more and discover more about their personalities, they do turn out to be quite a good fit for each other.

I was expecting the story to be a somewhat lackluster paranormal setting, too. It seemed that way from the book’s synopsis (though as I said, it was intriguing enough for me to read the book anyway). However, what I got was more than a bargained for. Not just a bunch of people disappearing, but also centuries-old alchemists, spiritual transference, psychic abilities, and a pair of teenager outcasts at the centre of it all. It may sound a little cheesy, but it worked, and it was plain to see that the author did some solid research in writing this story.

As characters, Miranda and Phillips were fun to read about. Miranda is a misfit from a so-called cursed family, her father is an alcoholic, and she seems to find her comfort in current geek media. Many references were made to TV shows that are in the geek mainstream, and that alone made me relate to Miranda a little bit more. Phillips was less geeky, more of the kind of guy who ignored authority, but he certainly had a smooth and wicked sense of humour, and wasn’t afraid to take risks. He had a devil-may-care attitude without being the sort of person who only rebels for rebellion’s sake.  Put together, the pair made for interesting reading.

They were a little too in tune with each other, though, especially when it came to leaps of logic. More than once, I found scenes in which one character would jump to a conclusion based on gut instinct or a sudden revelation, and not only were they always right, but when they were tell only a brief amount to the other, they were suddenly both on the same page, with the same agreements and same understanding of the situation as though they had both been connected at the brain. If Phillips had the ability to hear the thoughts of the living instead of just the dead, that would have been easier to forgive. Instead, it came across more as though the author didn’t want to spend a few pages of writing the two characters catching up.

And I can’t say I blame her, really, in some cases. From the perspective of a reader, we don’t always want to hear the same thing repeated 10 times as all the characters finally get something. But on the other hand, when you combine it with the occasional leap of logic, it seemed a little bit odd that they would both instantly grasp the same conclusion on nothing more than knowing the other person thought it.

While the pacing of the novel was certainly good, the tone made me feel distanced from the characters on more than one occasion. The opening scene, for one. We’re supposed to be getting a feel for Miranda, and I know that it’s supposed to feel as though we’re sitting on her shoulder to be a part of the action, but it feels very removed, almost more like we’re watching the scene from a distance rather than being in the middle of it. That cleared up later on, but sometimes that sense of removal from the scene returned for brief moments.

Also, I would like to take a spoilerific moment and say that the dog did not die! I get worried whenever I watch or read anything where a main character has a beloved pet, because all too often, that pet is there for no other purpose than to tug at your heartstrings when they die later on. And I thought for a moment that Bond was going to succumb to that trope, and I was going to be mightily disappointed. Angry, even, because as sad as those deaths are, it’s getting painfully obvious why they’re there, and it’s ceased to be anything but a gimmick. But I was thrilled to find out that no, Sidekick did not die, and I could celebrate seeing a happy subversion to a really annoying trope. Kudos to you for that, Gwenda Bond!

Ultimately, in spite of its flaws, Blackwood was a good YA novel that pleasantly surprised me on more than one occasion, and dealt with an old American legend that had nothing to do with vampires or werewolves. I’m definitely interested in reading more of Bond’s work, which is good, because I hear she’s currenly working on a second novel. If you’re a fan of creative and geeky YA paranormal tales, this is definitely one to check out.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)