It’s always been just Kate and her mom—and her mother is dying. Her last wish? To move back to her childhood home. So Kate’s going to start at a new school with no friends, no other family and the fear her mother won’t live past the fall.Like vampires, werewolves, and angels before them, Greek gods are apparently the hot new thing in YAPR. In theory I’m pretty damn okay with that. I’ve loved Greek myths ever since I was a child, and if there’s one thing those cow-fucking, baby-swallowing, cosmically powerful perpetual adolescents are good at, it’s creating drama. And not just any drama; these figures are responsible for nasty, dirty, vengeful, cruel, petty, vain, rotten, world-altering drama. They’ve smited people for liking them, or not liking them enough, or for, say, daring to exist. In short, they are a vast well of untapped paranormal awesomeness.
Then she meets Henry. Dark. Tortured. And mesmerizing. He claims to be Hades, god of the Underworld – and if she accepts his bargain, he’ll keep her mother alive while Kate tries to pass seven tests.
Kate is sure he’s crazy – until she sees him bring a girl back from the dead. Now saving her mother seems crazily possible. If she succeeds, she’ll become Henry’s future bride, and a goddess.
So how could we possibly go wrong with a book about a girl who must face a series of challenges administered by the all-powerful bastards themselves to win her immortality? It’d be like a teenage version of the Labors of Hercules, right?
Wrong. So, so wrong. This isn’t like the Labors of Hercules, this is Twilight with Greek gods instead of vampires. If you ever wondered what would happen if Twilight borrowed Wicked Lovely‘s concept and then took everything good out of that and replaced it with more Twilight and tortured Greek gods (in name only), well, HURRAY, you don’t have to wonder anymore, because what would happen is The Goddess Test.
That is NOT a good thing. And yes, this is gonna be a long one. Beware unmarked spoilers.
Let’s start with something easy, though. Like the plot. The idea is that Hades (who in this book has taken on the significantly less intimidating moniker of Henry) has been without a queen so long that his department has started under-performing, so “the Council” (a weirdly unnecessary euphemism for “the Olympians”) decrees that he needs to find a co-ruler/wife and get his shit together yesterday, or they’re going to let Hermes replace him. I shit you not. This guy, Lord of the Underworld:
Anyway, with the help of his BFF Demeter (yeah, they’re buds, and believe me, we’ll get to that)
If he doesn’t find a suitable bride by the deadline, Henry will lose his job, and since that is literally the reason he exists, he’ll eventually lose his life as well. The trouble is that someone doesn’t want Henry to succeed, and has been stealthily dispatching all the candidates who don’t quit or go insane. This makes Henry sadface and emo, and in our prologue – taking place just after the death of yet another potential queen – he’s given up and resigned himself to failure. Luckily for him, Demeter is not so easily put out, and she convinces him to let her use one last ~mysterious~ trick up her sleeve to find Henry another girl. Cut to twenty years later, and enter our heroine, Kate, the final candidate and Henry’s last hope.
Like I said, it’s an awesome idea, and we loved it when it was Wicked Lovely. Unfortunately, everything WL did right, The Goddess Test does wrong. The reasoning Carter uses to get Kate to accept Henry’s offer in the first place rings false, and the ruse the Olympians concoct to set the whole thing in motion is…elaborate at best, a cop-out at worst. Plus, there’s not a whole lot of action. The flap summary touts “seven tests” that Kate must pass, but the adventure and wit and Herculean challenges I was expecting to read about were a no-show.
Instead, the majority of the book is devoted to Kate’s adjustment to life within Henry’s mansion, also known as Elysium/Eden. It splits between development of her relationship with Henry, the nights she spends in a waking dreamland with her mother, and random exploits with her attendants and friends. Every once in a while we get other scenes in which Kate learns more about the other gods and gets bits and pieces of the secrets she isn’t allowed to know, but that’s pretty much it.
It’s not necessarily uninteresting or even badly written – in fact, there were times when it was quite good. Kate’s devotion to her mother is heartbreaking and real, and the moments in which she faced the emotional reality of her mother’s death were devastatingly sad.
And actually, the time we spend with Henry and Kate is well worth it, because the relationship progression between those two was better than in most YA books. Carter gets points for giving them weeks rather than hours or days to fall hopelessly in love, and for having the characters actually take the time to get to know one another before that happens. We’re told this a bit, yes, but we’re also shown enough key scenes between Kate and Henry to make it work.
The trouble is that, other than that, Kate doesn’t really get to do a whole lot. She just sort of bides her time and waits to get poisoned or to chill with Henry or her mom, or be tested. She doesn’t even explore a whole Hell of a lot – I mean, she’s in Elysium for Chrissakes, in a mansion that’s so amazing it qualifies as Eden. I don’t care how much “studying” I was doing, my ass would be mapping that place out. But Kate just…doesn’t. Her whole experience in the mansion is incredibly anti-climactic.
But the most frustrating part of this has to be the whole “test” aspect, because you know what we don’t read about, like ever? The tests. For the most part, they’re administered without Kate’s knowledge, and almost nothing test-ish actually ever happens to her. In fact, we have to be told what they were in the final climactic wrap-up. Which, by the way, is where we learn that they were based on the seven sins.
I can’t be the only one who finds that weird, right? Why the Hell would GREEK GODS use Christian morality codes as a hiring guide? I mean Christ, if those are really the standards, then none of the Olympians of legend would qualify. When did they become such goddamn prudes?
And not gonna lie, the tests themselves, once we’re told what they are, are pretty inane. Kate honest-to-God passes the “greed” test when she gets a new wardrobe and agrees to share the clothes with her friends. She studies hard for her Greek mythology quiz, so she passes “sloth”. The “lust” test requires that she not fuck around, and she passes that only because she was hopped up on magical aphrodisiacs and had sex with the man she loved. And oh, yeah, “gluttony”? That test required her to stop eating. AWESOME MESSAGE THERE.
Aside from the triviality of the tests themselves, what the Hell does any of that have to do with being a good Queen of the Underworld? Wrath, pride, maybe even sloth might be relevant, but the others are just…pointlessly thematic.
Irritating as they are, those aren’t my biggest problems with this book, though. Nor is the bastardization of the mythology, believe it or not – although don’t worry, I’ll get to that. No, my biggest issue with this book is actually Kate’s character arc as a whole.
At the start of the book, she’s got issues, putting it lightly. She’s relentlessly self-flagellating, and has very little sense of self-worth, or hell, even self. Her relationship with her mom is creepily co-dependent, and she has isolated herself from everyone but her mother for the past four years in order to take care of her. She has no idea what she’s going to do after her mom passes, and to quote Kate herself, she “doesn’t know who she is without her.” Her mother is her life, and the knowledge that she is going to die has made Kate mildly suicidal. And this girl is eighteen fucking years old.
Look, I understand being close to your mother, trust me, I do, but Kate has literally nothing outside of that relationship. She has no hobbies to speak of, no friends, she’s never dated, and has no career in mind, nor does she have any of the aspirations, dreams, or college prospects that other girls her age might. Keeping her mother alive has become what defines her, and the worst part is that her mother has let this happen. What Kate’s life has become is terrible for her mental health and for her development as a person, and yet her mother is completely unwilling – and is likely intentionally holding off – cutting the fucking cord. I understand that she was sick, but Hell, once she gets to Eden, she’s perfectly willing to push Kate out the door and right into the arms of her new person to live for, Henry.
And that’s what essentially happens. Over the course of her winter with him, Kate slowly lets go of her mother (good), and transfers that depth of devotion to Henry (BAD. VERY VERY BAD.) She initially accepts the offer of being his house-bound companion as a means of staving off her mother’s inevitable death, but once she gets to know Henry, her whole purpose, her reason for studying and working to pass the tests, becomes her desire to keep Henry alive.
And fuck, she has more of an interest in keeping him breathing than he does – he’s mildly suicidal as well, thanks to his heartbreak at the hands of the villainized Persephone, and his fruitless search for a wife. But Kate’ll be damned if she isn’t going to force him keep going, the way she’s forced her mother.
By the end of the book, everything Kate does to prove that she’ll make a good Queen is for the sake of being Henry’s wife. She wants her love to snap him out of his centuries-long funk; she wants to be the one to inspire him to keep on going. Likewise, he has become her reason for going on, even after her beloved mother’s death.
And I’m like “UGH OH HELLO THAR BELLA AND EDWARD. Haven’t seen you guys in a while.” Am I crazy, bitchy, nit-picky for finding this transference on Kate’s part – and really, Henry’s as well – frustrating? Shouldn’t a heroine in this situation learn that she herself is worth living for, worth fighting for? Not a boy, not even a shiny new gig as a deity, but herself. Shouldn’t a mother – especially a dying mother with a child so cripplingly co-dependent – be willing to teach her that?
Yet Kate’s mother doesn’t, because the plot to isolate Kate and bring her to Eden where she is so desperate to save her that she will accept Henry’s – a total stranger who could be a total psychopath – offer has been a last-ditch plot between her mother, Demeter, and Henry the entire time.
The fuckery never ends. Not only is this a total mischaracterization of the original myth and relationship between Demeter and Hades, but it’s creepy and wrong, even in this world. We’ve gone from Demeter being essentially “FUCK THAT DICK HE KIDNAPPED AND RAPED MY DAUGHTER” to “ILU SO MUCH I’ll make myself mortal and birth you a shiny new reason for living, who I’ll emotionally stunt so that she won’t have any outside influences, friends, lovers, or other reasons to not to sacrifice her mortal life for the sake of being your bride. And your loving her won’t be creepy at all, even though she’s the sister of the chick you’ve pined for for centuries. And I’m really sorry about that btw. WHO KNEW that an arranged marriage to someone she didn’t love might not work out? WHAT A BITCH for later falling in actual love with a mortal and asking to die so that she could be with him in the Underworld after when his life was over, RITE?”
*headdesk* This reveal just infuriated me. What the Hell kind of mother puts her child through that? And you know what the worst part is? When Kate finds out, she isn’t even mad. She’s just like “Oh mommy you’re alive”, not like “Oh mom, you lied to me for eighteen years and put me through Hell and literally gave me life so that I could wind up marrying some dude. THANKS A BUNCH.” Seriously, she’s more pissed at the guy she knew for like two weeks for lying about being a god than she is her own mother. Cause it was all for the best, right?
UGH, FRUSTRATING, moving on.
I guess that just leaves the mythology, hm? I’ll be honest, I don’t usually mind people taking liberties with old myths, especially those of the Olympians – there are so many interesting ways you can update these stories and characters while staying true to their origins. Look at the Percy Jackson movie and Desperate Housewife!Persephone/aging rockstar!Hades. Brilliant.
What I do mind is sanitization of mythology, and that’s what Carter does here. In Carter’s world, the Olympians aren’t blood-related (yes, incest is creepy, but it’s like…the foundation of Greek mythology), Hades and Persephone had an arranged marriage, TYVM, the gods judge people based on Christian principles, and Hades is a tortured immortal virgin who has pined after his lost wife for centuries. Jesus, the Percy Jackson book series was racier than this!
Not only that, but none of the immortal characters ring true. By the end of the book, it’s revealed that every single person that Kate met in Eden was one of the Olympians, and from their behavior alone, I would only have been able to identify maybe a third of them. And even then, many of the similarities are superficial (Athena is the tutor) or circumstantial (Kate’s handmaiden has a twin brother). These characters didn’t feel like the gods I’ve read about my entire life, they felt like completely unrelated original immortal characters. They felt like the goddamn Cullens.
And yeah, can I just say, wtf was with the portrayal of Persephone here? Look, you don’t have to make her a bitch just so I’ll sympathize with Hades. I can sympathize with his unrequited love and Persephone’s COMPLETELY UNDERSTANDABLE actions at the same time. No need to paint her as this heartless bitch who just ruined Hades’ existence with her DEVASTATING BETRAYAL, the whore.
I was so, so disappointed by this book. It could have been amazing, it could have been epic, there could have been clever tests and a heroine whose wit and strength of character and tenacity allowed her to beat the odds, and Hell, she could have even fallen in love along the way, with someone as strong and capable and kick-ass as her. That’s what I expected from this book.
What I got was the story of a girl who is lied to by literally everyone she meets throughout the course of the book, manipulated and blackmailed in the cruelest ways possible so that she will risk her life and sign away half a year of it so that she can “prove herself” worthy of being her captor’s wife. What I got was the story of an incredibly troubled girl whose problems were all solved not by self-actualization or a change within herself, but by her relationship with a guy. What I got was a story where those are good things.