Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality.
Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man–now a god–responsible for their deaths.
Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend of Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.
The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost–and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.
I usually find standalone fantasy novels difficult. The level of worldbuilding in a series, the part that I love most about the fantasy genre, is rarely possible in one book. However, Lore has a lot of factors working in its favour to make this a standout in standalone fantasy novels. First, the contemporary setting eased some of the worldbuilding pressure – Bracken didn’t have to describe an entirely new world, social structure, or hierarchy. Instead, Bracken focused that energy on painting a picture of generations of families pitted against each other in a world of violence and tragedy. Second, instead of a new form of magic or fantastical creatures to try to explain, Bracken took advantage of the well-established and well-known set of legends and beings in Greek mythology. These choices helped to keep the worldbuilding simple, allowing the story itself to be complex and engaging.
“It’s not always the truth that survives, but the stories we wish to believe. The legends lie. They smooth over imperfections to tell a good tale, or to instruct us how we should behave, or to assign glory to victors and shame those who falter. Perhaps there were some in Sparta who embodied those myths. Perhaps. But how we are remembered is less important than what we do now.”
I loved how straightforward the narrative appeared while slowly becoming more twisty and uncertain over time. I was drawn in quickly, totally invested in this completely unbelievable competition and the people (and gods) involved. Thankfully, the range of emotions each character experienced and the fact that the story was allowed to get as dark as it did helped make the unbelievable much more believable.
Van and Miles were the keys to my enjoyment of this story. Lore and Castor were so enmeshed in the stories they were taught as children, the fate they believed was not only deserved but wanted; if they were the only focus here, the story could have quickly become very dark but monotonous. Instead, Van and Miles provided levity and a refreshing perspective on what is a genuinely insane proposal. Training your children from an early age to grow up to kill others to gain the powers of gods is abusive and wrong and only possible when you are in a long line of people who have been brainwashed over generations to believe the same bullshit. Somehow, Van seems to be the only one who understands this. He provides the support necessary to protect those he loves, but he has no desire to fight, compete, or win. Even better, Miles is a brand new perspective on the entire situation, which allows him to have a sense of humour while participating in what must seem like a game. His intelligence and sense of self contribute significantly to the plot and to helping the other characters develop into better and more interesting people as the story continues.
Don’t let them pull you back in, Castor had warned her. There’s nothing but shadows for you here now.
But he didn’t understand what Lore finally did. Monsters lived in the shadows. To hunt them, you couldn’t be afraid to follow. And the only way to destroy them was to have the sharper teeth and the darker heart.
I think Lore worked perfectly as a standalone fantasy novel, and I truly enjoyed the story, the characters, and the choices Bracken made to make this so easy to read. Although, I wouldn’t turn down a Van and Miles spin-off…