Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review: Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda

Last January I read Devil's Kiss and really liked it - while it glossed over some things I wanted more explanation on, I really enjoyed it as an excellent work of urban fantasy with a kick ass protagonist who just happened to be bi-racial. In Dark Goddess, Billi is back and tougher than ever - this time tackling Amazon werewolves and Baba Yaga.

It's so cool, guys.

Dark Goddess (A Devil's Kiss Novel)While Billi is still mourning the loss of her best friend Kay, the supernatural creatures refuse to take a break to let her properly grieve. Last time Billi faced the Angel of Death - now she's up against the polenitsy, a pack of werewolves descended from the Amazons. They are searching for the Spring Child, an Oracle like Kay was, that they plan to sacrifice to their goddess, the infamous Baba Yaga. It's a mission that will uproot Billi from her familiar home in London and take her and her fellow Templars to Moscow and the wilds of Russia to team up with the Bogatyrs, the Templars' Russian counterparts, led by Ivan, the handsome descendant of the mysterious Anastasia Romanov. As the full moon approaches, Billi and Ivan will have to overcome their instinctive distrust of others to fight together for the common good.

One thing I really like about the supernatural creatures Chadda creates: they are the bad guys. Sure there are some shades of gray, but the polenitsy are not "kissing werewolves." No one is going to fall in love with these creatures because they are lean, mean, fighting machines, who are more likely to eat you than kiss you, if you were dumb enough to get that close. Additionally, Chadda puts some great twists on traditional folklore - there's the Amazon werewolf connection, which is awesome because Amazons are awesome, and then whole mythos of Baba Yaga. This isn't the scary little witch who runs around in a house on chicken legs; she wields unbelievable power as the physical embodiment of Russia herself. Scary. And awesome, like the werewolves that worship her. With a bunch of women in the roles of both adversary and ally, Dark Goddess has no problem passing the Bechdel Test. Yay!

The action is absolutely nonstop, which some can see as a good thing, but actually ended up undermining a bit of Chadda's worldbuilding for me. It's established early on that werewolves are bad news. As in, two fully-trained Templars could take on one werewolf and probably win - but their chances of survival decrease exponentially if a second werewolf is added to the equation. Yet Billi repeatedly tackles the werewolves, almost always with the odds against her, and she rarely even gets a full night's sleep, let alone a chance to really heal. Since she keeps coming out on top, it takes away the feeling that she's ever really in danger, thus dramatically decreasing the tension.

If you haven't read Devil's Kiss yet, I highly recommend you read that before Dark Goddess. Chadda throws us right into the action in chapter one and spends little to no time rehashing people or events from Devil's Kiss - so even if you have read the first book, you might want to re-read it as a refresher. These are the sort of fantasy books I want to see more of - women who know how to handle themselves and know what they want primarily, and the action is more important than the romance. And in the case of Billi SanGreal, you get all that, plus a bi-racial  heroine!
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