I’m fairly certain that The Woken Gods is only the fourth YA novel I've read this year. But the blurb sounded promising and the idea of gods walking among men seemed close enough to my wheel house to all but guarantee that I would enjoy it, so I took the plunge. After reading, I've decided that the novel is pretty typical of the reasons why I read so little Young Adult fiction, yet continue to dip my toe in the water from time to time. This is not to say that I didn't like the novel. I did. Despite some disconnects, The Woken Gods gets a lot of things right and makes for an interesting and easy read. And there is nothing wrong with that.
The premise of Bond’s novel is that the gods have returned, only to be beaten back by a secret society of humans using powerful artifacts from before the gods’ exile. When the dust settles, the world has changed. The Society has allied with the Trickster gods of the various pantheons and has taken the place of the federal governments around the world. Technology is unreliable due the presence of magic and the Tricksters now have temples that function like embassies in Washington D.C.. All in all, this is an auspicious beginning with lots of interesting moving parts and possible factions, all set in a world that is close enough to reality to be familiar, yet strange enough that assumptions are no longer safe.
At the center of Bond’s story is Kyra Locke, a teenager with an absentee father whose secrets place her at the center of the conflict between gods and men. While Kyra is the quintessential plucky YA heroine, I found very little compelling about her character. Sure she has plenty of family drama, between her tumultuous relationship with her father and her absent mother, and her friend and ex-boyfriend Tam but all of that conflict felt paint by numbers for me. While Bond’s theme seems to be that no one is every really alone when they have friends, I wanted something a little deeper. The romantic subplot was handled with a light touch and didn’t produce any sparks for me either. I’m left wondering if these elements felt flat because of my being so far out of the demographic for the novel. I can’t point to any real flaws in the writing and I suspect younger readers will find these characters and conflicts far more compelling than I did.
The world building played much better than the characters did. Bond wisely chooses to leave the gods as close to their mythological roots, and forgoes the trend to make them more human so as to be more relatable. The inscrutable nature of the gods and their sheer weirdness was a real treat. Kyra doesn't understand their motives and in large part neither will the reader. The gods are forces of nature and Bond doesn't shy away from that in the least.
The impact of the gods’ presence is also deftly handled. With the laws of physics working intermittently and the huge anachronistic temples dominating the landscape, Bond has created a world that seems to brim with possibilities. Not that much of that is explored in what I assume is the first volume in a series, but there are plenty of interesting facets left to explore. The same goes for the Society of artifact and relic wielding soldiers that stand in for the government. These are fairly standard tropes, but Bond uses them to interesting effect. There are some inconsistency involving the relics and other supernatural elements that seemed a little too convenient to me but they didn't impact the story in a major way. Hopefully things will be a bit less loosely defined in future volumes.
The Woken Gods is full of excellent ideas, plenty of action, and characters that are certain to be relatable to its intended audience. The execution isn’t perfect, but that really didn't impact my ability to enjoy the story at all. In fact it shows enough promise that I’ll likely give volume two a go, just to see what happens next. The finale of the novel ups the stakes and takes the story in a direction that will leave readers desperate to see how Kyra and her rag tag group of friends deal with the consequences of their freshman adventure.