Dark Goddess – Sarwat Chadda

Dark Goddess is an action movie–it even has car crashes. But crunched vehicles with damaged people crawling out of them is the least of it.  Sarwat Chadda’s YA fantasy is thick with werewolves, avatars, evil cackling crones, nuclear dead zones, medieval weapons, blood soaking through clothes, blood staining the snow, blood boiling to meet the moon. It’s exhausting.

Billi SanGreal is a fifteen-year-old Templar who basically does battle. All the time. Her life is one bloody battle. She has regrets about the people she has been forced to kill but she understands the larger mission. She is a Templar, set against the dark forces that threaten to overwhelm the planet. She gets very little sleep. She heads into battle on a moment’s notice. The Templar herbalist is kept busy brewing a stinky antidote to werewolf bites, Billi is always in Mortal Danger and most of the characters in the story are traitors.

Early in the book, Billi and company save a child from a monstrous attack on a remote farmhouse. The little girl’s parents are savagely ripped apart. The kid has powers–she may be a powerful weapon, actually. And Baba Yaga, the most terrible dark goddess of all, wants her. Billi loses the kid in the subway. Vesuvius erupts live on television. Buries Italy alive, again. People are freaked. Baba Yaga plans something even bigger for an encore. So Billi and the Templars head to the Russian steppes to find the kid, destroy Baba Yaga and save the world. Romanovs. Chernobyl. Bloody, bloody battles. Matryoshka dolls.

There’s a little love interest–very chaste–and a lot of chase scenes and many snarling, really painful encounters with lycanthropic shapeshifters. Battle. Battle. Battle. Boys will like this, I think. I am not so certain of the contemporary convention to cast strong independent girls as eager and relentless warriors. Mini-men or fully-empowered females? Not sure. But Dark Goddess is okay. You’d probably have to be a bit bloodthirsty to love it. And I thought everything wrapped up a little too neatly. No character jumped out at me and made me want to crack another book in the series to see what happens to them. Characterization isn’t the point. But there’s a vicious thunderstorm and a plane crash in the woods. Prop plane is totalled. No one dies. It’s a fantasy. Deus vult.

Dark Goddess (A Devil’s Kiss Novel) (Devil’s Kiss Novels)   Sarwat Chadda | Hyperion   2010

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