In the year 2021, is describing a book as being like The Hunger Games even a good reference any longer? Especially since, if you’re really looking for an on-the-nose comparison, Highlander would be much more appropriate?
I suppose I’m focusing on the petty business of book marketing because I don’t want to address how disappointing this book was to me overall. It’s blurbed as being The Hunger Games (sigh) only with Greek gods in modern-day New York City, and if that isn’t a cool as Tartarus description, I don’t know what is! Especially since the heroine is essentially a cage fighting orphan who thought she’d gotten out of the world of the Agon, only to reluctantly get dragged back in again when old friend/flame Castor shows up at one of her matches with a cryptic message, swiftly followed by the appearance of the wounded goddess Athena herself, begging for help. Athena promises that she’ll get Lore, our titular heroine, out of the Agon for good, as long as Lore helps her survive this latest in the cycle, due to end in seven days. Lore grudgingly agrees, binding her fate to Athena’s for the duration. Hijinks ensue.
Really great premise, completely undermined by the fact that nothing about the Agon makes a lick of sense. Some distant time ago, nine of the Olympian deities rebelled against Zeus, and in retaliation he cursed them to be mortal for a week once every seven years, during which any non-god who killed them would gain their powers instead. The bloodlines of ancient heroes train for these hunts but also seek to protect their own immortals, should one of their (male) heroes slay a deity, as the powers of a god grant not only immortality but also mystical power and influence. In the 21st century, only a few of the original gods remain, the rest having been slain and their powers usurped by humans, who have not always survived being hunted by other bloodlines themselves. Apparently, tho, should a god kill another god, the slain deity’s powers dissipate into the aether.
Actually, after typing all that out, the Agon does make sense (inasmuch as Hellenic infighting can) but it honestly took me struggling my way through the book and sitting down to write this review to figure that out, still leaving questions like, “Does the killer have to be someone from the bloodlines? Why don’t the gods band together against these assholes? Sure, they lose their immortality, but they still have all their powers, so why not turn the hunt around? And why would people think only men would be able to inherit the powers of Aphrodite or Athena or Artemis, how does that make any sense?” Which leads to the second disappointing thing for me about this novel: the very, very awkward attempt at feminism.
There’s one really excellent chapter in the book, when Lore and Athena are discussing rape, that made me think Alexandra Bracken has her heart in the right place, but the utter lack of female solidarity in the A-plot otherwise made it seem more performative than instinctive. Sure, sure, you can argue that Iro is Lore’s friend, but she’s barely on the page and mostly grudgingly, it feels. I’m also weirded out by the fact that Tidebringer, the only female usurper, was given such short shrift, as that’s one character I thought would have been really interesting to learn more about. Mostly, Lore runs around and relies on dudes for any and all meaningful assistance and interactions — Athena is both practically sexless and weirdly ambivalent about other women, so their connection hardly counts either. I do not have time for girl power narratives where 90% of the main actors are dudes, especially so soon after reading Stina Leicht’s wonderfully female and nonbinary-focused Persephone Station.
And, y’know, maybe I would’ve been more forgiving about the lack of female representation (and complete lack of nonbinary, which is a misstep given how Greek myths famously gave the Western world some of its earliest exposure to representation of same) had it not been for the fact that most of the male representation is deathly dull. Castor is hot and mysterious, Miles is Lore’s can-do best friend and Van is Castor’s sullen best friend who doesn’t trust Lore. Give each a couple of cool tricks, and that’s about the extent of their personalities (granted, Miles’ relationship with his family is adorable.) Ms Bracken’s writing doesn’t do much to give depth to any of her characters, nor does it care about smoothing out the tangle of plot lines and info dumps into a story of clean lines and aha moments. Instead, this story is like a primordial mass: you know there’s good stuff in there somewhere but isn’t that the author’s job to form it into something that both makes sense and entertains? I should be able to enjoy the story as I’m reading it instead of having to sit and re-write the elements afterwards so it all finally makes a modicum of sense.
Lore by Alexandra Bracken was published January 5th 2020 by Disney Hyperion and is available from all good booksellers, including
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