Penguin Books Australia
The publishers call this a romance, but really it’s an urban fantasy. The book cover, designed to fit with Penguin’s Destiny Romance series, makes it look like a contemporary romance, not the hard hitting example of urban fantasy that it is. The cover and the romance label are misleading. It’s not that there isn’t romance, there is, but like any urban fantasy there is much more to the story than the relationship between two people.
Harbinger is a gritty tale about a girl who works as a messenger for the fickle Athenian gods. Crake’s gods are as devious and arrogant as their ancient stories make them out to be, and her characterisation of said gods living modern lives is the most outstanding aspect of this book. She manages to combine modern sensibilities with the occasional display of godly powers that make you sit up and remember that these flawed beings are still gods.
The writing can’t be faulted and the plot is excellent—unpredictable, full of action and well paced. The worlds of the gods that Crake has drawn alongside our own are fascinating, expertly described and, so far as my education goes, in accord with the Greek myths.
I liked the way the world included the Norse gods as well as the Athenians. Hades says that his underworld is only one of many, and that where you end up has to do with what you believe and who you are. I had no doubt that all the gods any culture ever believed in had a place in this world.
One aspect of the book didn’t work for me. Even given the god’s well known fickleness, Ophelia’s grandfather’s actions were highly inconsistent. He had a servant protect her all her life, then gave her to a sadistic demon to play with. Once free, he quipped that he was surprised she took so long to get away, then he gives her a speech about why she shouldn’t judge him harshly. This was a speech he could well have given her, and logically would have, when she first showed her distaste for his role in the world of gods. The result of this is that the whole section with the sadistic demon came over as being added in for effect, rather than as the result of logical human actions and reactions. The time she spent there also seemed excessive. Given the nature of her escape, there didn’t seem to be anything stopping it from coming much earlier.
The main problem I had with the book though is purely personal preference. I found the sections where Ophelia was imprisoned and tortured too long and too grotesque. They were painful to read, something I prefer to avoid.
However, if you’re into dark urban fantasy, you’ll probably love it.