BOOK REVIEW: DARK TOUCH / AUTHOR: DEBBIE JOHNSON / PUBLISHER: DEL RAY (PAPERBACK), EBURY DIGITAL (EBOOK) / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Life isn’t easy for a new goddess. While being whisked off to New York to have her goddess status confirmed by the supernatural Council, Lily’s visions are haunted by a giant sinister eye searching for her, the herald of a long-dormant god of devastation seeking rebirth. And with Lily being a well of untapped power existing within the body of a barely-tested girl, she once again finds herself a target for those who want to use her for their own ends.
Dark Vision ended with Lily’s ascension to become Mabe the Mother of Mortals, a deific status that transcends cultural limitations. Each of the Council perceives her differently, most appearances being of a look and ethnicity that corresponds to their own. As Johnson herself observed, “It seems narrowminded to assume that the whole world is dominated by the choices of white Irish people,” and she conveys the coexistence of several mythological pantheons without any sense of paradox or contradiction, something infrequently achieved, and even more infrequently achieved well (Neil Gaiman comes to mind).
While Lily is now a goddess – sorry, The Goddess – she is also very much still a young woman who until a month previously was a newspaper music critic with no idea of the world-altering destiny about to be thrust upon her. As a result she’s still figuring out exactly who she is, and so her dual identities are occasionally at odds with each other before they are eventually reconciled. It’s not as clear cut as, say, in Kate Griffin’s books where pronouns switch to show who’s currently in control, but instead over time a gradual and subtle shift occurs as Lily slowly embraces the full extent of her new role as danger inexorably looms from the villainous Fergal Fitzgarry, who as well as having quite possibly the most Irish name in history also shows that even immortals and gods have someone to fear.
In keeping with its mythological inspiration, sex plays a significant part in the story. It was established at the end of Dark Vision that for Lily’s goddess powers to be fully realised she and the love-of-her-life-pain-in-the-arse Gabriel need to get it on, but their genuine affection for each other means that neither wants it to be an obligation, while Lily’s status as “Liverpool’s oldest virgin” adds a further necessity for the coupling to be meaningful. Lots of handsome, brawny and frequently shirtless men in tight jeans and leather certainly make a refreshing change from many fantasy stories where women are vacuous objects of relentless lust, and as well as her newfound soulmate, a band of muscular fae warriors and her indecently sexy and perpetually horny vampire minion Luca, Lily also manages to add to her entourage Katashi, a Japanese warrior and delightfully sculpted hunk of man-candy, his presence giving weight to Lily’s assessment that she is to be, “Forever surrounded by sarcastic bastards who made me feel a bit fuzzy in the knicker department.” It’s not just a sausage-fest either; there is also Carmel, Lily’s ass-kicking BFF and cohort in all things girly who remains a regular source of sanity preservation, and who as her Champion can go from zero to psycho in three seconds flat; and the Morrigan, the leather-clad, biker-booted Celtic goddess of war, a frankly terrifying woman of a size, strength and temperament each roughly equivalent to that of the She-Hulk.
Striking a varied but balanced tonal mix – and maintaining the previous book’s level of nerdy shout outs to the likes of Ghostbusters, The Fantastic Four, Superman, Star Wars, Father Ted and Doctor Who – the story manages to be romantic without being simpering, sexy without being sordid, funny without being flippant, and exciting without being histrionic. Although further adventures of Lily are planned they are sadly not yet guaranteed, and it will be a sad outcome indeed if the Mother of Mortals is given no chance so shine again.