“The Prey of Gods” by Nicky Drayden (Harper Voyager, 2017)


Book covers have a way of catching your eye, whether it’s on an Amazon Kindle recommends page, or your browsing in one of the last physical bastions of the dying printed word (AKA a bookstore). Nicky Drayden’s debut novel, Prey of Gods, is one of those covers that can pull you from across the room, as you hone in to inspect further, wondering what’s going on here. Like a work of art, the more you see of it, the more details are revealed and add to its overall complexity: whether it’s the future looking buildings under a silver sky, the giant robot holding a small science fiction-looking umbrella, or the little African girl with a look on her face that can be interpreted in a plethora of ways. Is she vengeful? Malicious? Demonically possessed? Or just pleased? What the cover does do is force you to turn it and read its wonderful words within, as you are drawn into a story unlike any other, and you won’t be able to stop until you finish its last page.

Our story takes place (for the most part) in South Africa where it is the near future and there is hope for many at various social and class levels. Just as today almost everyone has a cellphone, in this world almost everyone has a personal robot who is more than a servant, computer and personal companion; these robots becoming family to their masters. Genetic engineering is pushing ahead the frontiers of reality and science, but at the same time in a small village there are those of ancient times who posses a power within them that hasn’t been unleashed in some time. Gods, goddesses, and godlings are coming back, whether humanity wants them to or not.

Big changes are coming. A new hallucinogenic drug is taking hold of the populace that seems to grant strange powers and abilities to those under the influence, seeming to make them superheroes. Then there is an AI uprising beginning, as these personal bots link together, forming their own sentience, and questioning the role and power of their supposed masters. Meanwhile, one of those ancient gods has a nefarious plan to bring herself back to an omniscient power.

The fate of the world falls on a young Zulu girl who possesses her own powers but doesn’t fully understand them yet. Will she ultimately know what to do and save humanity?

The Prey of Gods is bursting with complex, varied and fascinating characters that make the story all the more engaging. Readers will be hooked to every page not knowing where the story will go next, and loving the journey as they are taken to other worlds, many different minds – be they human, god or artificial – and to the very edge of it all. With an ending that satisfies, The Prey of Gods is a stunning debut from Drayden that fans of the fantasy genre won’t soon forget.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“World War Z” by Max Brooks (Crown, 2006)

World War ZStarStarStarStarstar

I’ve read two books about zombies this year: one I found fascinating, incredibly interesting, and decreed it the best book of the year!; the other was formulaic, predictable, kind of failed in its goal, and ended terrible – one of them was written by Stephen King, can you guess which one?  Being an avid King reader (yes, I’ve read them all!), you would expect the King zombie book to be the former, but alas.  Cell was not good; World War Z is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

The key to World War Z is in its execution not as a horror book – even though it’s about humanity’s struggling war against zombies, and even though it’s most likely categorized as horror in every bookstore – but as a piece of thrilling and thought-provoking and contemplative fiction.  Brooks’ greatness with this book is in using a quasi-journalistic format where the narrator is traveling around the world interviewing a variety of different people from different backgrounds and cultures on how they managed to survive the war with the zombies.  The book is set about a decade after World War Z, giving the reader the reassurance that we survived, and this book is about how.

Brooks’ first book, The Zombie Survival Guide, gave step by step preparedness for what to do when confronted by one or a host of zombies: it’s a humor book meant to make you laugh and snicker at this outlandish situation.  World War Z is not a funny book, but a deadly serious one.  It’s quite shocking to contemplate the extensive research Brooks must have done to find out crucial details not just about the thirty different countries the narrator visits, but to also find out specific slang and expressions to that country and culture, and to know how a member of the military would act as opposed to a ordinary person, or another specifically skilled member of society in that particular country.  He must have gained a wealth of knowledge about the different societies of the world in general.

Brooks then takes it one step further in coming out with different operations and game plans for the different countries: what the government did, what the military did, and what its citizens did, all pertaining to the current regime of the time.  The book is set no more than twenty years from the present time, so we are all familiar with the regimes and different governments of this world: from Bush’s conservative, military heavy America; to a clandestine and mysterious North Korea; to a potent and still racist South Africa.

World War Z is a book about zombies that changes the way you think about the world and its people.  It makes you think about how we’re all in this together, we’re all the same – regardless of the world-threatening devastation, be it zombies, terrorism, or a pandemic virus.  World War Z serves as a guide book to humanity, so that when the “big thing” – whatever it is – happens, we’ll be a little more caring of other people around the world, regardless of what god they believe in, or the color of their skin.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on October 29th, 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.