Author: Jesse Hajicek
Original Pub. Date: 2006*
Browsing last night on Goodreads for something, god please anything, new to read, I had a horrifying (if belatedly logical) realization: the many shelves of Teen Paranormal Romance one can find at Barnes and Noble, if one is sufficiently unlucky, aren't just there because someone in the corporate office hates America and wants us all to die. They're there because that's actually what the fuck people want to read. Look at any "fantasy" book list on Goodreads; they're all actually young adult romance between people whose names have apostrophes in them, or who own pet unicorns, or who "empower" young women by representing nontraditional gender roles -- though, to be fair, only in the same ways that all other young adult romance protagonists represent nontraditional gender roles. You're not going to find any teen paranormal heroines genuinely enjoying swigging Scotch, or having meaningless sex with a stripper and then high-fiving their friends.
So if you're wondering why I'm trolling the depths of the Internet searching for off-beat self-published fantasy like The God Eaters, wonder no longer. The gay fantasy I've been finding is some of the only fantasy written for adults that's out there right now. It also tends to be a little more creative; since most of these writers know full well that their destiny, without self-publication, is to molder in a towering New York slush pile for all eternity, there's a little less incentive to stick with commercial genre trends. Not to mention that after reading a few Twilight-like junior estrogen fests, it's kind of nice to start a book absolutely certain that it won't include any horny adolescent girls. And boys whine less, even gay ones in books.
The main characters of The God Eaters did whine a bit more than I had patience for in places -- this is very much the deeply wounded soul redeemed by love kind of story, a Regency rake courting a bluestocking made both gay and magical -- but overall, I was impressed with the quality of the characterization. While a little emo, the protagonists were appealing and rounded enough. It probably helps that I have a weakness for the closet-romantic cold-blooded killer trope, as shown in my review of Villains by Necessity; these guys wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea.
I was actually impressed with the quality overall, especially given that I read a self-published online version of the novel. I found some typos, but frankly fewer than one would usually find in a mainstream publication. The writing quality was generally good, much better than the average for a self-edited manuscript.**
So with these housekeeping details out of the way, let's move on to the meat: the fantasy part of the fantasy novel in question. I was underwhelmed by the world as a whole, although the individual settings were well-described and vivid. The God Eaters takes place in a thinly disguised 19th century American West, with the Native Americans turned into some other type of native people with a name I can't bother to remember. The white imperialists (because what would a contemporary fantasy be without white imperialists?) are all conservative religious types who follow one god out of the many who used to be running around amok. (I'm willing to forgive this, though, simply because the great god of the oppressed native folks also turns out to be a prick.) Not the most creative use of history to create a fantasy world, but I give some points for fictionalized North America rather than fictionalized Europe or the Middle East.
On the theme of "not terribly original," some never-revealed proportion of the population has magical Talents*** that make them able to throw stuff around with their minds, start fires, read emotions, and so on. Our Talented heroes, as the story begins, have both been arrested for different crimes (the bluestocking wrote seditious pamphlets, the cold-blooded killer cold-bloodedly killed a whole bunch of people). Instead of receiving the usual summary execution, they're sent to a special creepy prison for magical prisoners in order to be experimented upon, oppressed, and generally cackled at by mustache-twirling Nazi types.
After the predictable escape, our heroes strike out across the desert, have a few adventures with starvation and floods and so on, and also fall in love. That part is all right -- I thought the author wrote a fairly compelling romance, even if the fantasy part of the novel was a little vague in places.
Eventually, in between running around in the desert and getting in fights (also not a bad part of the story), they figure out that both of them are kind-of sort-of aspects of some gods who have been driven into hiding by the white imperialists' god, whom they must then defeat.Since the god-eating part of the story appears shockingly late in the novel for being in the title, I'm sorry to spoil the story somewhat by revealing it, but since it's not so badly done, it's worth mentioning as a positive for The God Eaters. I've reviewed two other books recently that featured that good old people-turning-into-gods chestnut, The Rifter -- which pulled it off -- and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which emphatically didn't. While this book is nowhere near as good as the former, this author did manage something that the author of the latter did not: turning people into gods without resorting to ellipses, sentence fragments, or incest in order to disguise a lack of logic.
The God Eaters gets a solid three stars within contemporary fantasy, although I wouldn't go higher than two and a half compared to non-contemporary fantasy. It's very hard for me not to give this book more stars than it truly deserves; it was such a relief to find a fantasy novel that wasn't aimed at twelve-year-olds.
* This is the publication date for the paperback version that I found on Goodreads. I think the electronic version has been around longer than that. No one really cares about these details anyway, so let's all go back to the blog post and forget how OCD I am, m'kay?
** Actually, I have no proof that it was self-edited, but a few comments left by the author about having accidentally uploaded older versions of the story suggested it. If it was, then I compliment the author on his skills. The prose is nice and tight in most places, it flows well, and I was never confused about what the hell was going on, which is sometimes hard to pull off when a writer edits his own work.
*** Yeah, yeah, but at least it's better than "Gifts," right?