Rituals by Roz Kaveney. ★★★1/2
Are you looking for queer, unconventional fantasy centered around female characters? Than Rituals by Roz Kaveney is for you.
Before I get into a plot synopsis, I think it’s necessary to explain the unusual structure of Rituals. It’s almost more like a collection of novellas or novelettes than a standard book. There’s not really a plot arc for the book as a whole; instead, each chapter has it’s own plot line, arc, climax, and conclusion. Usually, they take place at different times as well. What unites them is the characters and the world.
Rituals has two protagonists: Mara the Huntress and Emma Jones, an ordinary English woman who becomes involved in the world of the supernatural. Emma’s chapters take place in the 80’s and 90’s, roughly a ten year span from 1985 to 1995. Mara’s ranged from the ancient Middle East to the fall of Tenochtitlan, which make sense considering that she’s a goddess. In the world of Rituals, there’s many ways to become a god, but one is the ritual of blood – committing mass murder to gain immortality and divinity. Mara has sworn to be a protector of the weak, and she hunts anyone who dares attempt the ritual of blood.
Between Emma and Mara, I preferred Emma’s sections. In the start of the book, Emma is a fairly ordinary student, but when she goes to a party and sees her roommate eaten by an ogre, she’s suddenly thrown into the world of the supernatural. Especially when her roommate shows back up as a ghost, becomes Emma’s girlfriend, and starts working with her to solve supernatural problems. My favorite of Emma’s chapters involved one where she was called upon to witness a vampire/elf wedding and business affair. She knows there’s something sketchy going on and starts to investigate. One of my favorite supporting characters was the vampire princess, who was self conscious about her small fangs!
Emma was easily my favorite character in Rituals. I like how her superpower is basically being sensible and talking things through. She doesn’t have any sort of fighting skills, and her eventual career as a psychic is more due to her natural bent for diplomacy. While I liked Emma, I was not as into Mara or really any of the other characters. I did appreciate how the major protagonists tended to be queer women. Emma, her girlfriend Caroline, and Mara are all lesbians. There’s also a bi woman as a major supporting character, and the word bi is actually used! I really loved how Rituals wasn’t afraid to use words like “bi,” “lesbian,” and “queer” and how it was trans inclusive.
As a forewarning, if you’re particularly religious, I don’t know how you’d feel about this one. Both God and Satan appear as major supporting characters, and I can easily see devout members of the Abrahamic religions being upset by God’s portrayal here. Otherwise, Rituals would probably appeal to you if you liked American Gods but thought that it could be a lot gayer.
Rituals is a book that marches to the beat of its own drum. Unfortunately, I don’t think the structure worked well for me. I had trouble getting through Mara’s chapters, and my reactions to Emma’s were variable enough that I’m probably not going to head into the next book in the series. I can see other people liking this book more than I did, and trust me when I say that the book is a whole lot better than the cover.