Book Review: The Godless by Ben Peek
Series: Book 1 of Children
Publisher: Tor (UK: August 14, 2014), Thomas Dunne (US: August 19, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Godless caught me off guard a bit, as it ended up not being the kind of book I was expecting at all. Mainly, it doesn’t read like it was meant to have a traditional story plot, and I don’t doubt that could be the reason for the many reviews I’ve seen describing it as confusing or difficult to summarize. Books like these are generally not my cup of tea, but The Godless did manage to hold me rapt with its epic world and fascinating mythology.
Thousands of years ago, the gods warred. After their conflict, the dead or dying ended up scattered across the world, becoming part of the forests, mountains, and other features of the land. Since then, men and women have awakened with strange and spectacular powers that are derived from the fallen gods’ bodies. The Godless takes place mostly in Mirea, a city built by a massive stone wall that spans a mountain range which houses the body of one of these gods, Ger.
The book follows the lives of several characters: Ayae, the young apprentice of a cartographer who discovers she is “cursed” after emerging completely unharmed from the flames that devoured her shop; Bueralan, an exiled baron who leads a team of mercenaries hired by Mirea to sabotage Leera, a neighboring enemy kingdom; and Zaifyr, a mysterious, centuries-old mystic who teaches and advises Ayae after the emergence of her powers.
The Godless is indeed a bit difficult to describe, as I found it overall heavy on ideas and history while coming in on the lighter side when it came to plot and character development. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even though books like this aren’t typically my taste, they are chockfull of potential if written well. To its credit, The Godless did keep me interested, but it didn’t have the momentum I desired. While the concepts of the gods and the individuals with special powers are nothing short of extraordinary, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing from the story, a lack of a unifying thread tying it all together which would have made this one a truly engaging read.
The characters themselves are well-formed with very complete backstories, but their personalities seemed muted somehow. I felt no particular affinity towards any of them, and despite the time spent with each character, I regarded them from an emotional distance. The Godless also isn’t something I would call fast-paced or a page-turner, though it does have its moments at the beginning and towards the end. There’s a lot of detail to take in in between, meant to be absorbed and savored, so I wasn’t surprised this one ended up being a slower read.
I think I went into this expecting something akin to a heroic fantasy, but that wasn’t how it played out, and it was through no fault of the book or the author. By design, the narrative seemed more interested in emphasizing the complex philosophy and theological ideas, the political history between Miera and Leera, as well as the lore and mythology behind the gods’ war and the Cursed.
It’s a compelling read, and there’s no denying that. This first book is a great introduction to a series with a boatload of potential. Still, while I enjoyed reading about the world of The Godless with its diverse peoples and cultures, its rich history and politics, my own priority would be characters and story. But obviously, we all have different tastes. If the sort of world building I described in the above paragraph is something you enjoy, then this book would be perfect for you.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Tor UK!