Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter--Review

HarlequinTEEN, ISBN 9780373210268, April 2011

Kate Winters' mother is dying, and wants to return from New York City, where Kate has lived her whole life, to her tiny home town of Eden. Kate, completely dedicated to her mother's welfare and having as much time with her as possible, takes her back.

Immediately, odd things start to happen. Some of them are "normal odd"; it's a small town, Kate's Mom is remembered, and surrounded by strangers, she finds everyone asking about her mother. She enrolls in the local high school for her senior year, and is quickly befriended by James, the local nerd, and earns the enmity of one of the very popular girls, Ava, by attracting the interest of her boyfriend Dylan, the school's football star.

Other oddities aren't quite so normal. On the way into town, Kate nearly hits a cow who simply appears in the road, and then has to swerve again to avoid a young man standing in the road--and then they are both gone. And then Ava tricks Kate into coming with her to an isolated estate, Eden Manor, and tries to abandon her there. When Ava jumps into the stream to swim out through a small gap in the hedge. she hits her head on a rock, and Kate, who is terrified of the water, nevertheless goes in and thankfully finds the stream shallow enough that she can reach her and pull her out. Unfortunately, Ava's skull has been crushed, and she's dead.

The young man that Kate thought she saw on road coming to Eden turns up while she's still dealing with the shock. His name is Henry, he owns Eden Manor, and he offers to save Ava's life, if Kate will give him what he wants. She hastily agrees to do whatever he wants, if Ava lives--and suddenly Ava is reviving. astonished and grateful that despite her nasty trick, Kate braved the water to save her.

What does Henry want? He tells Kate to read the story of Demeter, and she'll understand. She has until the fall equinox to decide.

Henry is Hades, God of the Dead, and his Queen, Persephone, chose to give up her immortality for a mortal lover, and has died. He can't rule alone, and needs a new Queen, or his fellow Olympians will replace him and he will fade.

But it's not as simple as Kate merely saying yes. There are seven tests, and she has to pass all of them. Henry has been looking for a new queen for a century, and every girl chosen has either failed one of the seven tests very quickly, or has been dead by Christmas. When Kate agrees, she's taking her life in her hands. Henry promises her more time with her dying mother, though, and she decides it's worth it.

And so Kate embarks on a very challenging and confusing experience, living in a not-this-world version of Eden Manor, surrounded by the Dead who are Hades' staff and servants, studying, not knowing when tests are coming or what they'll be like, and not knowing who is friend or foe. She enjoys dream-time with her mother in Central Park, and struggles in her waking hours with inexplicable hostility and suspect friendship, as well as mastering all the knowledge she'll need and the uncomfortable idea of, at the age of eighteen, becoming the wife of Hades for eternity. There are layers of deception she hasn't guessed at, and she has to peel them all back to pass the tests, survive attempts on her life, and have a chance of building a future.

This is a good, solid story, with interesting characters who are more complex than they appear at first, and all in all this book should please not only its intended young adult audience, but adults who don't require "adult" content in a story. Fair warning, though, it's the first of at least a trilogy, and while there's a complete story here, there's also a larger story arc to be continued in later books.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.