BOOK REVIEW: THE GODLESS / AUTHOR: BEN PEEK / PUBLISHER: TOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Fifteen thousand years ago, the gods went to war and eventually killed each other, with fragments of their divinity unpredictably cropping up in individuals who are subsequently rendered immortal and develop magical abilities. When Ayae, a young cartographer’s assistant, finds a mastery of fire awakened within her after a failed attempt on her life, she becomes a central part in an ongoing struggle over the remaining power of the dead gods.
The Godless is the first in a new trilogy called The Children, a term applied to the inheritors of the deceased deities’ power. Author Ben Peek makes an effort to fashion a setting distinct from the medieval Europe that is the basis of many fantasy novels, creating a world variously lit by the three fragments of a fractured sun and where the ocean is a lifeless expanse of black water. His views on diversity and equality are clear, with ‘white’ being a distinctive adjective for someone’s appearance, and woman are portrayed as being just as capable in positions of power and authority as men; and with only the most disposable of references to any kind of romance he avoids the common pitfall of reducing female characters to love interest.
The book is constructed to give as much information as possible about the events we see and everything that transpired to allow them to occur, but for all the detail in world-building, character interaction, history, backstories and scene-setting, it is unfortunately largely lacking in a novel’s most fundamental aspect: a plot. Yes, plans are made and talk is heard of encroaching war and Ayae begins to uncover the extent of her emerging powers, but despite all that there is apparently going on, very little actually happens in the scores of pages it takes to relate accounts of the characters not really doing anything.
As well as Ayae, the other viewpoint characters are Zaifyr, one of the first immortals, and Bueralan, the leader of a small band of mercenaries. The colourful pasts of each are related over lengthy sections, but really only act as window-dressing and add little to the ongoing proceedings. When the antagonists finally get a look in, they are revealed to be the kind of holy crusaders for whom reason and accountability have given way to the driving force of unquestioning faith, thereby absolving their beliefs from making any kind of logical sense and granting them justification for ignoring everyone else’s. Some of the overall plot of the remainder of the trilogy is actually divulged during these sequences, but when information is imparted by fundamentalist zealots it’s difficult to tell if we’re supposed to take it seriously, or blithely dismiss it as you would the hypocritical ravings of any religious oppressor.
Things pick up a little in the book’s final quarter or so, once the invading army actually arrives and a siege gets under way, but it all ends rather abruptly and with little in the way of resolution, as though The Godless as a whole is merely 560 pages of set-up for the story Peek actually wants to tell.