by K. J. Parker

Subterranean Press


112pp/$40.00/March 2016

Downfall of the Gods
Cover by Vincent Chong

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

From his debut with the novel Expecting Someone Taller, Tom Holt has shown himself to have a fascination with the behavior of the gods. In his novella Downfall of the Gods, written using his K.J. Parker pseudonym, he continues to look at the behavior of the gods, although Downfall of the Gods tends to be less humorous (but certainly not devoid of humor) as he does so.

The novella opens with Lord Archias begging forgiveness from the goddess of the moon at her temple for the crime of murdering his friend and political rival Lysippus. When he discovers the young girl next to him is the goddess to whom he was praying, he is stunned, especially to find out that she refuses to grant him the forgiveness he has sought. Eventually, she agrees that if he undertakes a journey to the underworld she may provide him with absolution and keep him from an eternity of torment in the afterlife.

The two travel together in a buddy road movie, passing over mountains and through deserts and across seas together, except when the goddess decides she has an urgent need to consult with her family or be somewhere else. Lord Archias moves from worshipping the goddess to loathing her, although he maintains a level of faith in her that demonstrates a religious devotion and the power a deity has over a true believer even when the true believer learns the truth of their object of worship.

Parker presents divine beings as a dysfunctional family, and one which is fully aware of how much they dislike each other, but also the strictures which guide their relationships and what they can and canít do. The later becomes more interesting as Lord Archias probes any limitations to the goddessís powers and she provides him with answers which are never quite satisfactory. Although the goddess is said to be the goddess in charge of Laughter, the Moon, Charm, and other aspects, she is never really shown to have any control of those areas, or, in the case of laughter and charm, any among her personal qualities.

Lord Archias and the goddess have very different and well delineated personalities. He knows he has erred and is willing to try anything to atone for his crimes, although he comes to view his penance with a sense of resignation. The goddess is shown as almost capricious in her whims, claiming not to know her own mind, although there is evidence in her conversations with her brother, the god Polynices, indicates that she may have a master plan.

The story is told entirely from the goddessís point of view, allowing her opinion of Lord Archias to color all of their interactions and her narrative makes it clear that she is an unreliable narrator in the best of circumstances. The book is enjoyable and Parkerís exploration of godhood works well, however the reader wonders what a companion volume written from Lord Archiasí point of view would look like, or perhaps having his tale interspersed between the goddessís chapters, perhaps related by an omniscient narrator who isnít the goddess.

Downfall of the Gods takes the themes Parker explored as Tom Holt and expands on them in a more serious setting. The foibles of the gods still exist, although, seen through Lord Archiasí reactions, they seem more tragic than comic and he becomes the plaything of the goddess and canít do anything except go along with whatever she has planned for him.

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