Mal Keyne came back from the dead five years ago. Since then, she’s been fixing the god Hades’s problems for him—the kind that are best solved with a bullet. In the secret war between the gods, discretion is the name of the game, and Mal’s got it covered.
But there’s a new player in town, someone with power that doesn’t work the way a god’s power should. They’re strong enough to risk open war with Hades, and reckless enough to disregard the one rule all the gods can agree on: keep the mortals in the dark. And they’re assassinating Hades’s agents all over the city—including one of the two people Mal actually trusted.
With the help of a sheltered priestess, and a magic-wielding mortal who may or may not be on her side, Mal is going to hunt down the people—and gods—responsible. And she’s going to show them why you don’t mess with the god of death.
The Main Characters.
Mallory Keyne made a deal with Hades in order to come back from the dead after her untimely murder. She now serves him as a Marked -- which makes her, essentially, a godly errand-girl with one neat magical trick up her sleeve. I found Mal to be a great main character, on the whole. She's full of good one-liners, and her character concept is pretty cool. I will say that the first chapter put me off her a bit -- her tendency to over-argue things can be frustrating to get through -- but I'm glad I kept reading, because the book definitely picked up from there. If you, too, get stuck on chapter one, just trust me and keep reading.
Mal's potential love interest (who I won't name here, since it might be spoilery) isn't quite as present as he would be in a romance novel -- this is definitely an urban fantasy that happens to have a bit of romance, rather than the opposite. He's an intellectual guy, though, and I always particularly appreciate that trope. Smart guys are attractive, people.
The Big Keyword: Gods.
If I had to rank my favorite parts of this book, the setting would probably be at the top of the list. The gods are scary, creepy, and more than a little bit unknowable. That's a nice change, compared to the way they're normally portrayed in urban fantasy (basically as super-powered humans just wandering around). For this alone, the book made it onto my bookshelf.
As a secondary note, the fact that Mal is asexual is a huge draw for me, because I so rarely see good ace representation. Her sexuality is kept a secret until the very end, but I spoil it here because I know for a fact I've got readers who are specifically on the lookout for ace books. I do feel it's a little bit of a shame this fact wasn't revealed from the get-go, but only because ace readers may not realize they've been given the opportunity to empathize with that part of Mal's background until the last few chapters. That said, you can always re-read the book with this in mind, and get the full experience.
The Big Misunderstanding.
There's... lots of misunderstandings in this book. I couldn't pick a single big one if I tried, which is a bit of a problem. There were a lot of plot threads that got picked up, chewed on, and then either discarded or wrapped up too quickly. I would have preferred a single, really strong plot thread to all these other little ones. I do think the plot was the weakest part of this book -- but everything else was so stellar that I didn't mind that too much. I'm looking forward to seeing whether the author can fix up her plot chops in the next few books, because it's really the only weak spot.
There were a few plot decisions in this book that really stood out as superb, though. Again, I won't spoil, but someone creates a new temple partway through this book, and their choice of location is just... perfect double-take material.
Fie, You Villain!
Hm. I. Hm.
I liked the concept of the villains in this book. I sometimes felt they didn't live up to their promise, though. They did have a cool conflict going -- I just would have liked to see them developed out a tiny bit more.
I'm normally at least a little bit sad when a book is totally clean -- but in this case, it makes total sense, and I enjoy the story even more for it. It's rare to see asexual characters in any genre fiction, let alone well-written asexual characters. The romance stumbles at times, but overall, the attraction between the main character and her potential romantic interest is solid, without having to lean on physical attraction.
Laugh Out Loud.
The main character (our narrator) has a number of one-liners that made me smile, if not laugh out loud. A few of the plot decisions were also just ridiculous enough in the very best way. See the aforementioned bit about the new temple.
I love the concept of servants chosen by the gods to do their dirty work -- but even more, I love the fact that the gods aren't described as human. Talking to a god is a very creepy, overwhelmingly chthonic experience, and this adds a neatly ominous air to the whole setting.
Why It's On the Bookshelf
Overall, this book was an excellent diversion. The plot might have stumbled at times, but the setting, the magic system, the main character, and the basic premise were all fantastic. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the other books in this series are like, because I have a feeling the writing will only keep getting better.