Like many myth geeks, I loved reading D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. I followed the trail of magical into fairy tales and down the slide into mythology. Brodsky took the idea of Greek gods and moved them to modern New York City, powered down and living among mortals. Artemis is a far cry from her old self, but she still hunts those who offend her spirit of justice. Instead of a pack of hounds, she has her faithful dog Hippolyta. As Artemis is scaring off a mortal man from his abused girlfriend when she feels a call go out from one of her worshippers. Although she’s certain worshippers no longer exist, her goddess abilities seem to be returning to her.
Gods among the mortals isn’t a new idea in fantasy, but Brodsky’s version is firmly anchored in research. Depending on your wheelhouse, this level of detail can be an attraction or a bore. Personally, despite my long fondness for ancient Greek art and myth, I did find the explanatory babble occasionally cumbersome, although not as bad as I would have expected in an urban fantasy. It works because Theodore Schultz is the ultimate professor, easily expounding on ancient culture and mythology at every opportunity, even in a police station. Artemis needs to reconnect with her history, but she tends to think about it rather than verbalize.
Although I am drawn to thoughtful characters, Artemis is no Athena (fun fact: I mistakenly named my rottweiler Athena instead of Artemis. She also was no Athena, metaphorically speaking). Her strategy in solving the mystery is to investigate crime locations and to accuse everyone she knows of the crime. Ordinarily, this headstrong thoughtlessness would irritate, but Brodsky makes it work for her. However, much like the deities in mythology, she also distinctly lacks a sense of humor. As in mythology, Theo is the character that helps the reader connect to the story.
On the downside, the author clearly follows the theory Conservation of Character, which was kind of a disappointment. There were a lot of insignificant mortals in mythology, so I missed the lack of inconsequential players, along with missed potential in minor gods and half-children. Strangely, early on we are introduced to Gabriela, a completely stereotypical Latina chica, her girl-friend speech pattern, her gay-dar, her moods that “could turn on a dime” and physical affection with Theo. I felt kind of embarrassed for Brodsky creating such a stereotypical mess of a character.
Setting was one of the high points: what’s not to love about New York City? She even nails the strange stale and fetid smell of the subway in the heat. However, Brodsky chooses to set her story fairly solidly in time, a serious mistake. I was puzzlingly distracted by more than a few mentions of Alexander Hamilton (the person, not the musical), and my reading buddy noted references to Amy Shumer, Anderson Cooper and Saturday Night Live! are going to badly date the books. Seems kind of a rookie mistake, but then it is a first book. So much of NYC is fairly timeless that it is a surprising choice.
Plotting is perhaps one of the weaker points. It roughly revolves around “who killed Helen,” Theo’s ex-, “and why?” but it does develop a couple of related sub-plots. I will say that I was able to identify the villain fairly quickly, and as I’ve said before, if I’m able to do that, you are performing the literary equivalent of ALL CAPS! MURDERER HERE! There’s a romantic subplot that feels incompletely realized. Basically, why is the virgin goddess falling in love while she’s avenging a woman? Goddesses are capricious and all that, but seems a bit hard to conceive that our cold moon goddess is mooning over a man as she’s hunting a killer. Brodsky didn’t really quite have the chops to pull it off.
It wasn’t until the end that I realized one of the philosophical underpinnings of the world-building, the idea that deities can be maintained by adapting to new traditions, was utterly ignored with Persephone, goddess of harvest, and Leto, goddess of motherhood. Somehow the females all became weaker while the males became stronger. Clearly, Brodsky’s never worked with a gaggle of moms-to-be, had to buy stupid baby presents every year or look at a facebook feed full of fat little faces. The Cult of Motherhood is strong.
Overall, I’d say I enjoyed reading it, but I do tend to rely heavily on skimming over the boring bits, whatever they may be. The approach seems to be a little more of the literary-fiction angle than the UF angle, which may be why there’s a blurb from Deborah Harkness on the front. People who don’t groove on Greek myths or on NYC may be more bored, although it’s worth noting that Artemis’ approach is more like a superhero- powerhouse, not a magicky-wishy–thinky approach. This was generally solid, and more palatable than early Harry Dresden books. I think there’s some interesting potential, so while I wouldn’t add it to my personal library, I’m also willing to continue the series.