This begins–no, it doesn’t even begin, it’s epigraphed–with a hymn to the divine twins, Artemis and Apollo.
There are three ways to my heart. One is pizza. One is being my husband. The third is mythology. Especially well-researched mythology, so I may have done a little happy dance before I even got to page one.
But the problem with loving myths and the classics means that you have certain expectations. You expect reflections on Beauty and the wine-dark sea, and a certain weight and weariness. You expect the cool dignity of marble as well as the joyful gaudiness of the colors we now know those statues were painted. And this book is not that. So reading this book became a matter of managing expectations.
The Immortals has a bit of the feel of a good episode of Bones or Supernatural. It’s a procedural. And that’s fine. It’s Urban Fantasy or Paranormal Romance, a murder mystery with a Greek myth twist. These are not my preferred genres, but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with this book, other than my rabid and unreasonable desire for a book more in keeping with classical sensibilities.
There’s another book about murder, classicism, and the Greek gods to which I cannot help but compare this book: Donna Tartt’s A Secret History. That book has a profound understanding of both this and the Classical world, which included a sense of both gravitas and pettiness for which the Greek gods were so famous. The Immortals has very little of the Classical world to it. Which was–perhaps–intentional. The world has moved on. The gods have been forced to embrace life as it is.
But there are some who are wistful for the gods as they once were. Professor Theodore Schultz lives with one foot in the ancient world, which uniquely prepares him to join up with an ex-goddess to seek vengeance for his ex-girlfriend’s murder. Artemis is a murderer ten thousand times over, but never mind: she didn’t kill this woman. Even though the victim was dressed in ancient Greek fashion, and the prevailing wisdom is that she was sacrificed. Who would want to do this? Well, the mystery is decent, full of mundane and mythical suspects. But the mains? Well…
Theo quotes Catullus…during sex? And exclaims “Holy Roman Empire!” in place of swearing? I’m sorry, but no. That’s not charming, that’s pretentious. It just seems cute because Theo’s whole life seems cute. Most of Theo’s life is based on a romantic notion of academia, full of mild glories and consistent brilliance. It’s almost right, but it lacks true insight into the post-bachelors academic life. Where is Theo’s crushing self-doubt, his hustling for ever-shrinking grants, his terribly unhealthy lifestyle come exam time? Where does he find the time to spend an hour grading every paper for 70 students–doesn’t he have a TA? Many of his colleagues are bores and jerks, but Theo is annoyingly perfect, the idea of a professor without any frustrating realities. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the Platonic ideal fits in a story about the Greeks. But that doesn’t make him terribly compelling.
Again, I am probably the wrong person to be reviewing this, because I’m exactly the audience this book purports to represent. This is a perfectly reasonable fantasy of a far more perplexing reality, whether academia or the head space of the gods.
The head space is really the issue more than the portrayal of the Ivory Tower. I’m willing to accept that Artemis regrets her vow of chastity because she’s lonely. Her handmaidens are gone, and her worshippers, too. Fine. But I don’t feel that loneliness deep in my gut. I don’t feel her impotent rage at humans who are ruining the world’s wild places; I don’t feel her suffocating isolation; I don’t feel pent-up lust or regret or self-pity. Her loneliness is a convenient interpretation of her myth to make this story work. Which–again–all right, I’ll accept it. But it flows from a somewhat anachronistic understanding of the original myths and doesn’t give me a modern myth to replace it. After centuries of chastity, does sex frighten her? Obsess her? She protects vulnerable, abused women–does she hate men for what she sees of them? Resent them? She’s had millennia to dwell on these issues, but conveniently, her memory is a bit faulty. She doesn’t fully recall being a holy terror, whether just or capricious. She doesn’t have to grapple much with her own history, and that’s a wasted opportunity. There isn’t much psychology here–not like, say Song of Achilles, another Greek retelling. It’s all about the case.
Which–again–if you like paranormal mysteries, this isn’t a problem. This book is a diversion, an enjoyable puzzle. It is not the gift to get your classicist friend, but it is a gift to get your friend who likes (early) Anita Blake or True Blood.
The Immortals comes out February 16th.
And one pet peeve for artists from anyone who reads a language with a different alphabet: STOP USING THE FONTS THAT PRETEND TO BE IN ANOTHER SCRIPT. I mean this:
You have no idea how annoying it is to be reading in one language and then have your brain do the equivalent of a system error while you try to figure out why suddenly words don’t make sense. I know that it’s “IMMORTALS” and not “IMMORTLLS” and I know it’s not even a Greek cognate (it’s from Latin; in Greek, “immortals” is ΑΘΑΝΑΤΟΙ, which to give credit where credit is due, the author also knows) but that upside-down V is a capital L and now I have a twitch. At least Greek and English both read left-to-right; it’s not as bad as when your eyes cross trying to read English that looks like it’s supposed to be Hebrew, but STILL. Designers, please take note. If I ever meet one of you who does this, I will not bother with the voodoo doll, I will just stick a pin in you.*
*Okay, I won’t actually do that. But I will be rude to you. Which probably makes me the jerk but SHUT UP YOU’RE THE JERKS.