Josephine Angelini: “Goddess”

Goddess  Goddess

YA Novel
Pages: 421
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Can you change your fate?

The gods’ thirst for war already has a body count – and Helen is plagued with visions of destruction. She must find a way to imprison them once again, or risk unleashing immeasurable chaos.

Her powers are increasing – and so is the distance between Helen and her mortal friends. Uncertain whether to fear or revere her, the once-solid group divides.

To make matters worse, the Oracle reveals that a dangerous Tyrant is lurking among them … and all fingers point to Orion. Still unsure whether she loves him or Lucas, Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision, for an all-out war is coming to her shores.

Starcrossed and Dreamless are international bestsellers. Now Josephine Angelini delivers a thrilling conclusion to this epic trilogy of love, hate, revenge, and fate. With worlds built just as quickly as they crumble, a goddess must rise above it all in a final battle to change a destiny written in the stars.

Spoiler-Free Review: Goddess is the third novel in the Starcrossed trilogy, which I’ve been reviewing here because it kind of sort of uses the story of the Trojan War as a base from which to launch its own story. When I read Starcrossed, the first book, I was baffled by its popularity but kind of amused by all its blatant similarities to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I thought the second book, Dreamless, was more original and more interesting, but I was frustrated by Lucas’s violent treatment of Helen as well as by the fact that most of the story only happens because of a lie that the readers know is a lie. Reading Goddess, I think I passed through bafflement and frustration and reached a point where this series genuinely makes me angry. Because … it’s terrible.

As usual, I must confess that there were a few things I liked, and here they are: Matt’s first few scenes. Morpehus’s two appearances. Some of the more fantastical settings that ensure that, if the rumoured movies do get made, they should at least be nice to look at. And … that’s about it.

This book reads like a hastily written first draft. Every action and every line of dialogue is overexplained; like both books before it, cutting out all the unnecessary exposition would make the book at least a hundred pages shorter. Plot threads are left half-finished. The main characters are unlikeable. There are too many characters who contribute nothing to the plot. Important scenes focus on characters the readers barely know and don’t care about. None of the main characters ever face any real risk or consequence. The original mythology is simultaneously vague and overcomplicated. The Greek mythology is changed so much that I’m not sure why it was used. The tone and register are all over the place. Characters frequently do things they were adamantly opposed to doing no more than a chapter before, with no reason given as to why they changed their mind. Characters develop powers out of the blue and then never use them. The narration awkwardly jumps from the mind of one character to the mind of another for no good reason. And – my least favourite point of all – an abusive relationship is portrayed as the truest of true loves.

There are some good ideas buried below all the first draftiness of this book, and a ruthless edit and rewrite could have improved it immensely. I have no idea why this series didn’t receive that treatment – surely this book had an editor, right? what did she even do? fix typos?? – but the fact seems to be that it didn’t. As it is, then, I don’t recommend Goddess or either of its predecessors at all.

SPOILERIFFIC!! Review: Let’s explore some of my above criticisms through examples from the text.

The Greeks believed that a hero’s soul was in his armor. The Iliad and The Odyssey told of warriors who had fought to the death over armor. Some had even dishonored themselves to get their hands on the swords and breastplates of the greatest heroes in order to absorb that hero’s soul and skill. Ajax the Greater, one of the most revered fighters on the Greek side of the Trojan War, had gone on a rampage to possess Hector’s armor. When Ajax woke from his madness, he was so horrified with how he’d tarnished his good name that he fell on his own sword and killed himself. Matt had always puzzled over that part in The Iliad.

I suspect Matt will be even more puzzled when he realizes that none of this is in the Iliad, and some of it isn’t part of the mythology at all.

Another puzzling moment in this story of people who supposedly know the Trojan War inside and out comes when everyone is baffled by the Paris character’s decision to use a bow and arrow against the Achilles character. Come on, guys. Try to keep up.

“And what’s that?” he asked, holding out his arms for Helen to tie his breastplate at the sides.

I have no idea why the characters, who pretty clearly live in the 2010s, are going into battle with Bronze Age weapons and in Bronze Age armour. This is especially confusing because we’re told that the characters are acting out a story that has been acted out thousands of times over the centuries, and the flashbacks to the story as acted out in King Arthur’s time don’t seem to indicate that Bronze Age armour is a necessary part of it. And yet our main characters, preparing for a fight with the gods themselves, for some reason decide to leave the modern technology at home. You guys! Cell phones alone would have solved so many of your problems.

“Matt, I can turn into a horse,” Orion said with an apologetic look. “Everyone in the House of Athens can.”
“Get the hell out,” Helen said, whirling on Orion with wide eyes.
“What? I can turn into a dolphin,” Jason said like he was telling them the time.

So a whole bunch of characters just gained the ability to shapeshift. This is never brought up again.

“Do you want to go? I should probably stay in case Daphne comes back,” Helen said to Kate in a weak voice. She obviously didn’t want to stay, but she felt like she had to offer.

When Helen finds out that Daphne has been drugging her father Jerry to keep him from waking up, she is consumed by rage and swears revenge. At the beginning of this scene forty pages later, she’s upset to find that Kate, who is mortal and thus not strong enough to prevent Daphne from drugging Jerry again, is the only one watching over him. Less than two pages after that, we get this quote, in which Helen decides that watching two people she barely knows fight over something that doesn’t involve her is more important than protecting her father and getting her revenge and, you know, that stuff. This is just one example of a character’s motivation completely disappearing for no apparent reason.

And speaking of Kate, she and Noel are the most unnecessary characters in a book filled with unnecessary characters. They’re constantly mentioned despite the fact that they never do a single thing that contributes to the plot. They barely even do anything that doesn’t contribute to the plot. They’re just … always … there.

“No. I think you’re the Tyrant,” Matt said.

“It’s okay, Mom. I’ve suspected this for a few days now.”

There’s a prophecy saying that one of the characters is going to become the Tyrant and everyone is afraid of this for vague reasons. Matt accuses Helen of being the Tyrant and Helen admits she already suspected as much. Even though the reader spends most of this book privy to Helen’s thoughts and this is the first time it’s even hinted that she believes she might be the Tyrant. This is one of the ways in which this book feels like a first draft to me. It’s like Angelini suddenly realized she wanted Helen to suspect herself of being the Tyrant, and then was going to go back and flesh this idea out in further drafts, but … there are no further drafts. There’s just this. Just Helen saying “I’ve suspected this for a few days now” and me saying “NO YOU HAVEN’T!”

Also note that everyone thinks Helen is dangerous until they don’t anymore. Which is more explanation than is offered in the novel.

He didn’t want to see a murdering pedophile get away with it if Daedalus lost to Phaon, but there was no way around it. Duels had strict rules.

I admit this is an awkward quote, but I just want to point out that one of Goddess’s one-dimensional minor characters is a pedophile … because. I strongly suspect that Angelini wanted to make readers dislike him without actually having to put any work into it. I would argue, however, that pedophilia is not a topic you should just toss into your novel because you don’t have any better ideas. The way this is handled, she might as well have made Phaon guilty of stealing Daedalus’s Wi-Fi. Either way, I had zero interest in the duel between Phaon and Daedalus. It was a surprisingly long and violent scene between two characters I had just been introduced to and didn’t care about, and it had no effect on anything that happened afterwards.

Phaon being a pedophile is especially odd when Orion, who is shown to really hate him for his past crimes, is caught kissing someone much younger than him less than twenty-four hours later. (The Jacob Black character falls in love with someone much younger than him? You don’t say …) Lucas does get angry with Orion, but he seems to get over it and the relationship is allowed to continue, with no connection ever made to Phaon or Orion’s hatred for him. So I honestly have no idea what Phaon was doing in this book at all.

Speaking of topics you shouldn’t drop into your novel without thinking carefully about why you’re doing so: this book includes five mentions of Hitler, and I could have done without every single one of them.

“He traded himself for Hades,” Hector said over Noel. He pulled on Helen’s arm until her face was inches away from his. “Lucas took Hades’ place as the lord of the dead.”

The characters never suffer consequences, part one. I was genuinely surprised when Hector was killed because over the course of this series it becomes pretty obvious that Angelini only kills off characters that she doesn’t like. So it came as less of a surprise when she brought him back to life not twenty pages later. Hector’s death: meaningless.

Hector comes back to life because Lucas offers to take Hades’ place as ruler of the Underworld. I was genuinely excited about this because come on, one of your main characters just became the lord of the dead! How could you not do cool things with this?? So it really annoyed me when Helen undoes this in the very next chapter, making a new deal that Lucas will maybe have to take Hades’ place someday. Lucas’s sacrifice: meaningless.

“I made you pretty much immortal, Gig,” Helen said. “All of you. You can only die when you decide that you don’t want to live anymore.”

The characters never suffer consequences, part two. Helen has become so powerful that she is able to give her friends immortality, and she does so. Eight characters become immortal just before the final battle. And not just immortal, but a special kind of immortal, where mortals can’t hurt them and neither can gods. So, you know. Eight characters are now unable to be harmed by anyone on the other side of the war that this trilogy has spent over a thousand pages building up to. When this happened, I thought, okay, I’ll give Angelini the benefit of the doubt. Maybe one of the characters who’s still mortal is going to get hurt. Or maybe she is going to threaten one of the immortal characters with a fate worse than death. That could be all right.

Nope, that is not what happens. Our main characters become invincible just before the final fight and that is that. This is such a basic failure of storytelling that I don’t know where to start. The Starcrossed trilogy is a story about people who never have to sacrifice anything and never have to face any real danger. They go into the final fight of a war knowing that no matter what they do, they will be fine. The reader knows that no matter what they do, they will be fine. And we’re supposed to care about what happens? We’re supposed to watch them engage in risk-free fights against one-dimensional villains and care about it??

Kate made Lucas and Helen eat way too much at dinner, insisting that since Christmas was three days away, there was no point in trying to eat healthy until after New Year’s, anyway.

Helen and Lucas didn’t have school the next morning — not because the high school was still going through major reconstruction (which it was) but because they were on winter break.

The characters never suffer consequences, part three. Eight characters are immortal, but the others are not. Lucas maybe has to return to the Underworld someday. Helen made a pact with Hecate and will one day have to do her bidding. I thought the epilogue was going to be about all that, but I was wrong. The epilogue is the perfect evening at home with her family that Helen previously thought she’d never experience again. Helen lamenting the loss of her regular life: meaningless. Immortal characters having to watch their loved ones grow old and die, Lucas having to live in the land of the dead, Helen having to do whatever Hecate asks of her: not in this book and therefore meaningless.

This particular section of the epilogue also contains one of my favourite overexplanations in this book. It’s three days from Christmas but the narration feels the need to assure us that Helen and Lucas are on winter break. Angelini, your target audience is probably English-speaking American teenagers, right? You don’t need to tell them that three days before Christmas = winter break. They have experienced this their whole life. They got it.

The epilogue also brings us this:

The one person Hector couldn’t save was Ariadne. She was devastated about Matt and was starting to pull away from the family.

Adriadne is distancing herself from her family. Do you think it’s because of the loss of the guy she dated for like a week, or because she’s the only one of her siblings and cousins who wasn’t offered immortality?

Hmmmm, it’s probably the guy.

“She startles the hell out of me, like, five times a day. I swear, she makes no noise when she moves,” Orion said to Claire. He turned to Cassandra. “Keep it up and I’ll put a bell on you. Like a bad kitty,” he threatened with a stern look on his face …

At the end of Dreamless, Orion was the only main character I could stand. So of course he had to spend Goddess being creepily patronizing.

“He had curly blond hair, and he was really tan. Like a Malibu surfer boy,” a chubby girl with stick-straight, blonde hair blurted out, like she couldn’t contain her exuberance.
“He had really smooth skin, too. Like a dolphin!” tittered the cinnamon girl back to the blonde girl, and the two of them fell in a fit of snickers, drooling over Andy’s almost-rapist.

After Apollo stalks, attacks, and tries to rape Andy, we get several paragraphs of her classmates talking about how dreamy he is. I think the idea is supposed to be that the gods are irresistible to mortals even as they’re a threat to them, but it’s not executed particularly well and it smacks a little too much of rape culture for me to be okay with it.

Helen took Orion’s hand shyly, knowing that Hector had just given them the chaperone’s equivalent of a … hall pass. No matter what the two of them did that night, they could be assured that Hector wouldn’t put them in detention for it.

Hidden in this creepy euphemism is the idea that Hector is policing Helen’s sexuality and she is still friends with him for some reason.

Lucas pulled away. He yanked hard on [Helen’s] arm and snapped her out of the spell. It really ticked her off when he bossed her around like that, and she had no doubt he knew it, too. She wrenched her wrist out of his grip and shoved him toward the stairs.

Well, here it is. The number one reason I am not a fan of these books. Lucas and Helen are presented as the perfect couple even though they constantly withhold information from each other and hurt each other both physically and emotionally. If there was a moment somewhere in the trilogy where they took an honest look at themselves, noticed all this, and decided that’s exactly the way they wanted their relationship to be, I would back off. It’s none of my business what kind of relationships consenting adults enjoy. But there is no such moment.

Following this quote is a scene that made me genuinely uncomfortable. Lucas and Helen strip to their underwear and start fighting each other. Lucas pins Helen down and demands to know what she’s been talking about with Orion. Again, if there were any indication that Lucas and Helen do this sort of thing because they both enjoy it, I would ignore it. But there isn’t. There is a very strong theme running through all three books where Lucas hurts Helen because he believes that hurting her is what’s best for her, and Helen accepts it because she believes he knows better than she does. This scene, too, is presented as Lucas helping Helen to work out her frustration because he loves her so much. Yep, Lucas hurts Helen because he loves her. Textbook abusive boyfriend. And Helen really isn’t much better:

“What did you and Orion talk about in the hall after breakfast?” he hissed into her ear.
“Who said we were talking?” She said it on purpose to get to him, and it worked. A pained look crossed his face, and Helen took the opportunity to break one of her wrists from his hold and hit him in the gut.

The Starcrossed trilogy presents the relationship between Lucas and Helen as the truest true love that ever did true love, the love so strong the gods want to keep them apart, a love that will last for the rest of Lucas and Helen’s immortal lives. It seems completely unaware that most of Lucas and Helen’s scenes together feature them hurting each other in a variety of cruel ways. We’re expected to be happy when Helen chooses Lucas over Orion, even though Helen has a much healthier relationship with Orion than she does with Lucas.

Also note Lucas’s thoughts when Helen begins her battle with Zeus, which she knows is the only way to end the war:

Clever girl, Lucas thought. I could strangle her right about now.

Helen just made you invincible and is about to end the war you’re fighting and that’s your reaction?! To think about hurting her again?! How about you hope for her success instead? How are we supposed to care about or even like these characters or their relationship when they are constantly horrible to each other?? How is this series getting so much praise when its central romantic relationship is an unquestioned abusive relationship??

I have let this entry become the longest entry on this blog because, after reading so many positive reviews of this book, I felt I should be as specific as possible in describing why I did not enjoy it at all. But after 3,400 words, you’re probably sick of listening to me. Let’s let someone else finish this off. Lucas, what do you think of Goddess?

“It’s like New York, Vienna, and Reykjavík had a baby with Scotland,” Lucas said in awe.

Well, there it is.

Buy it if you still want to at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

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3 Comments to “Josephine Angelini: “Goddess””

  1. Yikes! You’ve been wasting your time. Let me recommend Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood’s novels about Pelops and Niobe, Jocasta and Antigone. Not necessarily Trojan War, but set around that time period. And my Knossos. You really need to read Knossos.

    • Thank you for the recommendations! I’d never heard of Grossack and Underwood’s books before but they look great. And of course I have to read Knossos :) but I think I have to read the Orestes books first!

  2. Remember that time I decided I would read Twilight and then totally didn’t get past the third book?

    Yeah.

    *salutes your tenacity*

    I really enjoy reading your reviews (of terrible books) because they always come from an enthusiastic place: It’s like you are willing the books to be better than they are. It’s SO FASCINATING to see you apply a critical lens to books that probably wouldn’t receive such treatment otherwise. Critical readings of pop lit = my jam.

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