The Prey of Gods by Nicky Drayden. ★★★1/2
The Prey of Gods combines futuristic South Africa with hallucinogenic drugs, ancient demi-goddesses, and AI revolts. It’s an eclectic collection that makes for a truly unique science fiction story. The best comparison I can think of is Neil Gaiman crossed with Lauren Beukes.
Sydney’s a demi-goddess who thrives off of fear. What’s a demi-goddess to do when there’s not a lot of fear around? Obviously, she’s got to make some. Mostly this has meant murdering individual people, but then she gets an idea for how to level up big time. Standing in her way are a young Zulu demi-goddess, a queer teenage boy trying to figure out what it means to be a man, a pop singer who uses the facade of a bitchy diva to cover up the pain of her MS, a robot just gaining self awareness, and a politician who moonlights as a drag queen.
As you can probably tell from that line up, The Prey of Gods has a wonderfully diverse cast. These six different characters come from wildly different backgrounds and occupy different positions in society. I also didn’t know this going in, but two of the six POV characters are queer. Muzi’s fallen in love with his (male) best friend, Ellkin, and is generally dealing with a lot of coming of age type stuff. Felicity realizes over the course of the story that she’s not a drag queen — she’s a trans woman. If anyone knows of reviews of The Prey of Gods by trans women, please send them my way. I’m cis and can’t really talk about Felicity’s portrayal in terms of trans representation. Also, a spoiler regarding the queer characters: none of them die. End spoiler.
Felicity and Riya (the pop star) were my favorite characters, although the main focus was on Muzi, Sydney, and Nomvula. Honestly, I never cared as much about those three. Sydney’s the villain of the story, so in her case it’s not that surprising. With Nomvula, it is a surprise. She’s an abused and neglected little girl who suddenly discovers that she’s a demigoddess with immense power. I think I will grow to like her more if I read the sequel — I have the feeling she’ll be gaining agency as she gains in self confidence and knowledge. As for Muzi, I think my main problem is that I hate his love interest. Ellkin is so annoying! He throws a fit when a celebrity refuses to sign his bong. Urgh. I knew that sort of guy in high school, and I’m still not impressed.
I do like how The Prey of Gods mixes genres together. It takes a science fiction setting and throws in paranormal and urban fantasy aspects. I could almost describe it as an urban fantasy novel set in the future, but there is some science fiction story tropes happening too, especially the potential robotic uprising. As unusual as it is, Drayden makes it work, and her futuristic South Africa is easy to visualize. For whatever reason I loved how pesky dik-diks played a role in the plot.
On the negative side, I struggled with the pacing. I ended up wandering away from the book for an entire day, reading other things instead. I had trouble keeping my focus on it. I especially had trouble with the last third of the book. When the narrative should have been getting even more riveting, it instead felt like it was slowing down. In particular, I had trouble with the after life sequence. I could also feel like there was just a bit too many things going on in the last third, some of it really bizarre. For instance, Felicity’s penis turning into a snake. Did this ever get an explanation? It also felt sort of strange that it happened to the only trans character.
I don’t know if I’ll read the sequel to The Prey of Gods, but I know I’ll read more by Nicky Drayden. In particular, I think I should check out some of the short stories she’s already written. After seeing how imaginative The Prey of Gods is, I’ll bet she has some impressive ideas. I also look forward to seeing what she writes in the future. While my experience with The Prey of Gods was mixed, I still think it’s a relatively strong debut novel.
I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.