Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).
Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…
Thoughts: I must say, this is an excellent introduction to Underwood’s writing. The Younger Gods sounds simple enough in premise (guy tries to leave his cultist family to live a normal life but ends up getting drawn right back into their schemes) but a combination of the diverse cast and Jacob’s charmingly old-fashioned speech patterns create something unique, something that stands out from other similar-on-the-surface offerings. Jacob’s observations and his background alone could have made this novel great, honestly, and I’m impressed that Underwood managed to pull off such a creative blend of elements like this.
Like many presentations of fictional cults that actually involve some legitimate connection to the supernatural, Jacob’s family is part of a cult that draws a great deal of its mythology from the Cthulhu mythos. Which is a mixed bag; on one hand, there’s plenty there to work with, but on the other hand, it’s the go-to source for such things, which means it’s been done by so many people already. There’s always such a cult around. Rarely does anyone present a supernatural cult that doesn’t involve such things, and there are always horrible sleeping gods about to waken. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea, but at this point in the game it’s hardly original, and so it does lose something.
In fairness, though, Underwood does throw in a lot more mythology than your run-of-the-mill Lovecraftian horror, and you see elements from various world faiths and legends. From omnipresent werewolves to less common things like rakshasas, to incorporating elements from Judeo-Christo-Islamic creation myths, you’re left with a mishmash of mythology that blends together surprisingly well, and gives the impression of a complex world filled with ideas that transcend the region of their creation. I loved this aspect of the book, since so often I see stories of the supernatural that take only one small part of the current myths floating about in the modern world and assume them to be entirely true and the rest entirely false, or else set the whole book in the area that gave rise to those myths in the first place and ignore the rest of the world.
If you love your novels action-packed, then The Younger Gods is a safe bet, since while the book may start off a little slowly, once it gets going it doesn’t let up its hectic pace for even a moment. Which does prove to be a bit of a detriment; after a while you find yourself relating very well to Jacob’s complaints about how he’s literally been running all over New York for a day or more without rest, and the book feels much the same way. There’s only so much action that a person can take before the frantic pacing should let up for a little while to give the reader a rest, otherwise it gets overwhelming and, unfortunately, a bit dull even when spells and flying and swords are being slung. This was the book’s biggest drawback, I found. Too much action, not enough chance to actually process what just happened before another crisis starts.
I was, however, impressed with the reactions characters had to Jacob’s heritage, and with Jacob’s characterization in general. Rather than managing to escape his family, Jacob still finds himself in the thick of things, even unwittingly playing his part in the prophecy his family worked for generations to complete. Though he tried to hide who he was, his reputation preceded him, and he faced understandable prejudice from those around him, even those he tried to help, since they’d heard tales of his families actions and goals and viewed Jacob with a jaundiced eye. And Jacob is very much how you would expect from someone who grew up fairly isolated in an apocalyptic cult; odd speech patterns, unfamiliar with the pop culture that permeates social interactions, hating what he was raised on but often falling back on old thought patterns. He’s an interesting character, one with plenty of redemptive potential, and I’d love to read more about him and to follow along as he tries to right wrongs and undo the damage he and his family caused over time.
Ultimately, The Younger Gods is a solid urban fantasy with an interesting premise and characters you can’t help but get invested in. It’s a smart ride with plenty of diversity, commentary on how equally odd myths and modernity are, and I have to give Underwood praise in setting the whole thing up, because it’s clear that an impressive amount of research went into the small details that make the whole thing so rich and realistic. It’s soaked in the supernatural, marinated in mythology, and is one of those books that will hold up well to a reread when the sequel rolls around.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)