I mean it when I say spoilers. Go no further if you haven’t read the book. It isn’t my intention to ruin this book for others.
Judging by most of the posts on this blog, one could easily assume I’m more into TV shows than books. That’s actually not the case; it’s just way more convenient to review all the books on Goodreads and slap a link on the blog. Except with Carrie Vaughn’s new book Discord’s Apple, that just won’t be satisfying enough. I need to go into detail, and then I have to hide it there, and what’s the fun in that? I had to bring it to my world.
I bought this book without looking into it because Carrie Vaughn is on my list of “safe” authors that I buy without checking. So I was pretty disappointed when I realized this was one of those books where mythical legends (in this case, the likes of Odysseus, Apollo, and King Arthur, among others) are real people, mixing in with a society set not far in our future. In general I’m not a fan of that, but it is handy that I just took a mythology class which covered Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, among others. I was ready to catch Vaughn if she messed with the classics, but she was faithful, carefully fleshing out the characters in exciting and modern ways without actually changing their stories (unlike Sherrilyn Kenyon, who turned the virgin huntress Artemis into a needy, clingy sex fiend who only cares about making a man love her. Her books are fun though.)
Of course, there is room for fans of Homer and the like to disagree—for instance, in this story other gods tease Athena for being in love with Odysseus, whereas I always preferred to see her as the only goddess who didn’t fall all over herself in love with him, yet saw him as an equal…a friend. Digressing, hard. Sorry.
Vaughn gives you a lot of fascinating fantasy material, but around it she creates a world that is very realistic—and very frightening. Main character Evie lives in our future, if all countries reach a point where they are at each others throats, terrorism is rampant as each tries to force its own agenda on others, and nobody is safe. Evie’s friends and the neighbors from the small town she grew up in act as if armed checkpoints in and out of every town are to be expected. Evie has a friendly chat with her school friend, who casually reminds her to report any strangers. She has also lost her mother in a terrorist attack. I’m not explaining this well enough, but I felt like Vaughn took my current worst nightmares and made a world out of them.
Also disturbingly authentic, Evie’s father has terminal cancer and he is refusing treatment. I am fortunate enough to say I haven’t experienced anything like this, but Vaughn draws such an unflinching picture of what it would be like to watch a loved one, someone as vital as a parent, slowly succumb to cancer. It was heart wrenching. Cancer is certainly another one of the scariest monsters in our world right now.
On these points, I was an absolute fan; I became completely engrossed in this world. The mythological heroes are actually necessary comfort, like solutions that we might wish to have when facing sometimes seemingly unsolvable challenges life currently offers. But there were some sticking points for me.
Evie writes for a comic book series, and wants to write a novel about the characters. The unfortunate part is the story stops several times to tell that one instead, and I wasn’t interested in it at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still on subject as far as the characters are soldiers who fight terrorists. I just didn’t feel like reading another story within this story. This is a small issue.
The second thing is a personal problem, but I bet I won’t be alone. I’m a lapsed Catholic with an open mind, but…I believe in Jesus, I believe He is God, I believe He made miracles. As such, it was tough to get past Jesus appearing as a character in this book, and in a pretty harsh light. In Vaughn’s world, there are no gods, only magic and those (ordinary humans) who wield it and become so powerful that they act like gods. Then they either sacrifice themselves so the power can go back into the world and allow people to master their own fates, or they spend their time building more power so they can shape the world to suit themselves. Jesus is depicted here as the former, so at least he’s a good guy, but he is just a guy—and a bit of a liar. He did believe he’d come back from the dead (he was wrong), but only because he knew Zeus had done something similar. Problem here being that if he knew the entire time the second coming was just a really hard magic trick he was trying to imitate, then his preachings were complete lies.
It was mentioned once but I winced and powered through, only to have an immortal character reiterate it in detail (“Trust me, I was there, he’s nobody.”) Zeus was treated with more reverence. I choked on it a bit, but I tried to look at it as a part that Vaughn felt necessary to make her world consistent and create a reality where humans really are completely alone.
I still finished the story. This is clearly a thoughtful novel, and it’s saying something I haven’t heard before. I felt like I identified with the fear and frustration, the idea that our futures might be shaped by a few powerful, arrogant voices. Despite the cynicism, this book can’t be a complete downer because Vaughn is way too talented at creating engaging characters. I loved them all—good guys, bad guys, and even the big dog named Queen Mab—so it was no hardship to follow them through what would could be considered a trying story. I also appreciate when someone is willing to tell a story with complete honesty, whatever the reactions might be.
For the most part, Carrie Vaughn is still on my “safe” list. I’m glad I read it but I shouldn’t have bought it, because it just isn’t a world I’d want to revisit. Next time if it isn’t “Kitty Norville”, I’ll just look into it a little bit more first.