What qualities and elements do you like to see in ancient Greek myth retellings?
Generally, I prefer modern settings that explore ancient themes and ideas to books that try to “reimagine” the ancient world. The latter can be extraordinarily difficult to pull off, as it requires a willingness to enter into the ancient world seeking understanding rather than judgment.
Lore, which I received from NetGalley for review, is a kind of middle ground between the two. It’s set in the modern world, complete with modern technology, but features ancient Greek gods as characters. As punishment for rebelling against him, Zeus strips nine gods of their immortality and sends them back to earth as mortals to be hunted in an Agon, from the Greek word for contest or struggle. A mortal who manages to kill a god assumes his or her power, and the cycle of hunting repeats seven years later, with the new god now being the one who is hunted. Old gods who manage to stay alive return to the Agon every seven years. There is a fragment of poetry that may hold the clue to what it will take to end the Agon for good. Main character Melora was raised to be a hunter but walked away from that life after a personal tragedy. A new cycle, an old friend, and an ancient god draw her back in, and the story sets off from there.
What was the nature of the rebellion, and why was this punishment deemed appropriate? Who penned the poetry fragment, and what answers does it hold? At the end of the book, we still do not know the answers to these questions. The novel as a whole suffers from these sorts of convoluted inconsistencies and lack of internal logic. It circles around interesting ideas and questions but fails to substantively grapple with and develop them, changing direction or throwing in a new plot twist, seemingly out of nowhere and without resolving the preceding one. This was especially frustrating with a subplot involving Athena that devolves into caricature and is resolved too abruptly to be convincing. The level of graphic violence also felt a bit gratuitous for my taste.
For the positives, I enjoyed Bracken’s prose, and it was interesting to see and debate how she incorporates ancient Greek ideas and figures. Both kept me turning the pages to the end with interest.