Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Last year, I picked up a book called Devil’s Kiss on impulse. It sounded good, with a story about a girl who is the daughter of the leader of the modern day Knight’s Templar. I read this book, and I loved it. So, I was definitely going to continue the series. And Sarwat Chadda has continued the excellent writing in this next installment.
First of all, he writes a character that is complex and surprisingly likable and identifiable. Normally, authors bent on crafting realistic characters will give you a character who is so flawed that you can’t like them. They make bad decisions so they seem more human, but their bad decisions only show the bad of humanity. You need to see the good, too.
In Devil’s Kiss, Billi was rebelling against her legacy. I understood why, even if I didn’t always agree with her actions. In this book, she has taken up the yoke of duty in the Knight’s Templar. She’s hardened by the loss of her dearest friend. Now, she is all about duty. Her duty requires her to make tough decisions on a regular basis. Billi doesn’t have the life of the average teenager, and she never will. But the world needs her sacrifices to be protected from the Unholy, monsters who prey on humans. In this book, she might be forced to make the toughest decision of all. If she has to kill an innocent child to save the world, can she do that?
Mr. Chadda manages to write this teenage girl in an amazingly convincing manner. He doesn’t forget what and who she is, but he endows her with a maturity that is realistic, given her relentless upbringing and the burden she carries in her life. I love young adult fiction, although there are some books that I can’t get into because they don’t have the complexity I like in a story. This is not one of those. If there were more YA books like this one, I think that many adult readers would stop looking down their noses at YA and calling it infantile. This book is mature and challenging enough to keep any fan happy, and done in such a way as to contain suitable and interesting subject matter for teenage readers.
Russia and its Folklore:
This reader has a fascination and a love for Russia, its culture, and its folklore. I was overjoyed to see how well Chadda writes about modern Russia. I felt as though I took a tour of the Moscow of today, and he even takes us to the barren wasteland of Chernobyl, twenty years after the nuclear meltdown that made it uninhabitable by humans. Each scene gives a full picture of Russia, how the past, future, and present mingle in a Gordian fashion. On top of that is his use of the old folklore of Baga Yaga and Vasilisa. Baga Yaga scared me in the folk stories I read. She’s even more scary in this. In this story, she is the Dark Goddess, with a whole pack of ruthless female werewolves dedicated to her service. I loved how Chadda took this folklore and made it such an important part of his story.
Action, Danger, Interpersonal Relationships and a Bit of Romance:
I tell you what, I am glad I am not Billi. Facing the situations she does would be way too much for me. But it’s real life for her, whether its saving a young girl from ravenous wolves, or dealing with corrupt humans. Operating on little to no sleep. Trying to find the way out of seemingly impossible situations, only to do it again the next day. And facing a formidable witch who has the power to end the world. This book is action-packed. The storyline twists and turns, and the sense of risk never abates. I loved seeing the characters fight their way through one situation to another, and the sense of family between the Templars. These guys are seasoned, hardened warriors. Mr. Chadda does a great job of writing about modern day warriors and their weapons, and doesn’t result to info-dumping to show just how knowledgeable they are about their weapons.
I am glad to see that the relationship between Billi and Arthur has improved. Arthur trusts Billi to do to the right thing, gives her a lot of autonomy in doing it, and listens to her advice. He realizes that she has earned his respect the hard way, and that she’s an incredible asset in their battle against the Unholy. I loved the daughter/father relationship in this book, because Arthur isn’t only Billi’s father, he’s also her commanding officer, which takes precedence most times, but it’s clear how much Arthur cares about his daughter, and vice versa.
After the last book, in which she is betrayed by one love interest, and ends up losing another who was an important part of her life, Billi isn’t exactly looking for love, and she doesn’t have time for it even if she was open to it. Nevertheless, sparks fly between her and Tsarevich Ivan Alexeiovitch Romanov, the surviving heir to the Imperial Romanov dynasty. Yes, that could have come off as a cheesy, over the top touch, but it did not. In a story in which Russia is an intrinsic part of its fabric, it totally made sense. I liked Ivan. He had the arrogance and regality I expected of a young heir to the Russian Imperial throne, but he was also tough, adaptable, and good-hearted. I liked that he respected Billi for the strong young warrior that she was, as well as seeing the beauty in her. I liked seeing their relationship bloom, in the most adverse of circumstances. It added a nice touch of romance to this dark story, but it didn’t inappropriately take over the story, as both know that there is not much time for snuggling and flirting.
Oh, the Horror!:
This author writes horror so well. He does the atmosphere beautifully, with just enough violence to make the reader shudder, but not over the top. The menace of Baga Yaga, the werewolves, and humans who seem to lack any semblance of humanity. And yet, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and the good guys, not all good. It’s all about motives, isn’t it? That sense of ambivalence takes a horror novel to the next level.
I loved this book. I devoured it, and wanted more when I finished. I wish Sarwat Chadda would write faster, because I can’t wait to read his next book about Billi and the Knight’s Templar!
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