by Nicky Drayden



388pp/$15.99/June 2017

The Prey of Gods

Brenoch Adams

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Nicky Drayden’s debut novel, The Prey of Gods is an ambitious blend of folklore, bioengineering, and science fiction set in a future South Africa. Drayden introduces a large cast of characters whose seemingly disparate stories are carefully and intelligently woven together to create a dystopian South Africa beset by ancient gods with a penchant for meddling in the affairs of humans.

Drayden begins her novel with the adolescent Muzi, who is undergoing the traditional circumcision at the request, perhaps demand, of his grandfather. Muzi is less interested in the rite and more interested in hanging out with his friend, Elkin, doing drugs, and playing with his AI. Drayden quickly moves on to introduce Sydney, an ancient goddess whose powers have waned, but who is trying to figure out how to regain worshippers by instigating fear and pain in the world, Nomvula, a young girl who learns more about her mother and herself when she violates her mother’s instructions about talking to Mr. Tau, the village woodcarver. Other major characters she introduces are Stoker, who is a fast track politician with a secret, and Riya Natrajan, South Africa’s hottest musician. Drayden quickly presents all of these characters and begins cycling through their stories. The strangest character she introduces is referred to as “This Instance” and its chapters are presented in 1s and 0s.

Once the characters are introduced, Drayden can begin their stories and reveal that Sydney isn’t the only one who has powers, although the nature of each of the characters powers varies. More importantly, Drayden raises the question of how each of the characters will use their powers as they become aware of them. Muzi’s response to his powers is almost of a child with a new toy, even as he quickly realizes how much damage he can do by indulging himself. Nomvula attempts to be more circumspect about the use of her powers, although she sees how much damage she can do and quickly comes under Sydney’s influence. Riya shows confusion about her powers while Stoker’s discovery leads him to realize that a lot of his own life has been hidden from him and that his mother is more than she seems, as well.

While the supernatural powers of the main characters are front and center, Drayden also offers a technological world. Bioengineered dikdiks run through the streets of South Africa, causing problems, but protected as they have been brought back from the edge of extinction. Sydney uses man-made pathogens to introduce disease into the general population in a slow, but steady method to increase her own power. Most importantly from the narrative point of view, “This Instance” slowly morphs into just one of several sentient AIs questioning their role and relationship with humans.

The Prey of Gods is a busy book, looking at the role of technology, the acquisition of powers and how people come to terms with it, the nature of good and evil, the discover of the self, and a depiction of a future south Africa. Drayden successfully navigates all of these issues and does so while presenting a fully realized setting with characters the reader cares about (and in some cases has negative feelings towards). Her heroines and heroes are complex and they aren’t able to resolve their issues neatly or easily as they attempt to become better individuals and survive what the fates have decreed for them. With luck, readers will remember Drayden’s novel when nomination season rolls around.

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