The Goddess Test by Aimée Carter
I’m going to be honest—I’m not sure why I picked up The Goddess Test. Was it a result of my childhood fascination with the Greek gods, or the fact that I automatically enter bookmarked Amazon pages into my trusty reading spreadsheet (400 and counting!)? I may never know my motivation. But I’ve been keeping a lazy eye on Harlequin Teen’s paranormal offerings; I’ve wanted to read My Soul to Take, the first installment in a series about banshees and grim reapers, for quite some time. (My attraction to banshees can be dated, like many things, to Warcraft.) So when I saw that this was available to review on NetGalley, I gave it a half-hearted shot… which it ultimately didn’t deserve. Sigh.
The Goddess Test follows Katherine Winters as she takes her mother, dying of cancer, back to her hometown of Eden, Michigan. Katherine tries to fit into this impossibly small town, but her efforts to befriend Ava, the resident queen bee, end in Ava’s death—until a mysterious boy named Henry offers to bring back Ava to life in exchange for Katherine spending six months out of every year with him. Not believing him, Katherine ignores him after he brings Ava back… until her mother’s health begins its final decline. In exchange for an extension on her mother’s life, Katherine moves in with Henry, only to discover that Henry wants her to complete a test so that she can join him as Queen of the Underworld… you see, in the past, Henry has been known by many names, including Hades.
Now that vampires have been, well, sucked dry (trust me, I couldn’t make myself not say that), teen paranormal romance—which is devouring bookstores everywhere—is looking for the next supernatural phenomenon to thrill their readers with. Angels and zombies have been proposed, but I found the idea of the Greek gods placed in this context interesting, especially since you don’t have to twist their mythology to make them viable romantic matches for mortals. So The Goddess Test starts off promisingly enough from a worldbuilding point of view; it opens with Henry pondering the corpse of a girl who has failed the titular test, when Diana comes in and promises she will bear a daughter that will pass the test and save him from fading into nothing. (Fans of Greek mythology will see right through the nominal misdirection.) We then flash eighteen years later to Katherine’s ordeals in Eden, which lends an interesting air of suspense to this rehashing of the Persephone story; you wonder just who is and who isn’t in on this scheme. I really enjoyed how this changed the by now traditional formula of “girl moves to small town, is the new kid in school, and meets attractive supernatural being” as pioneered by Stephenie Meyers.
But Carter soon wastes the unique flavor of the Greek gods by covering her lack of character development and organic motivation with eighteenth century drag. Henry lives in a lush mansion and his servants dress Katherine as a fairy tale princess every day for no other reason than to describe pretty dresses, all while Katherine is tested on the Judeo-Christian seven sins (…by Greek gods… I don’t get it either) and the myth of Persephone is rewritten to make Persephone the bad guy—because people can’t just grow apart in a universe where true love is supposed to exist. (I think this is exactly why I find the concept of true love only remotely attractive in the abstract; the reality has disturbing implications.) Katherine starts off promisingly enough, her isolation due to caring for her cancer-stricken mother, but she’s still very much in the vein of the stereotypical teenage heroine in teen paranormal romance—a pretty girl who doesn’t see her own beauty, mildly snarky, and more of a stand-in for the reader than anything else. Henry, surprisingly, gets more character development than the heroine; he still loves Persephone, but it doesn’t invalidate his love for Katherine. However, actual character development and motivation are ultimately left by the wayside. I had no idea that Katherine wanted to stay and help Henry until she flat-out told him, and the reason why all the other girls failed comes out of left-field, though it’s delivered well. When I read a novel of any stripe, I like to forget that I’m reading about fictional characters; but here, it was hard to pretend that they were real human beings the further into the novel we got.
To its credit, The Goddess Test is a compulsive and quick read—I whipped through it on a busy day between classes. It’s also an aesthetically pleasing book, which certainly counts for something with me; the first pages of chapters have an unobtrusive but lovely design and the cover is interesting, although it makes me lament the lack of actual Greek flavor in this novel. But, ultimately, I think the copyright page of The Goddess Test says it all—in the right hand corner, it neatly extols you to please recycle this book.
Bottom line: The Goddess Test fails a promising concept and structure with a lack of character development and organic motivation, all while trying to cover it up with weirdly inauthentic eighteenth century drag. A compulsively readable miss.
I read this digital galley for free on NetGalley.
The Goddess Test will be released on the 19th—tomorrow!