Downfall of the Gods
by K.J. Parker
Cover Artist: Vincent Chong
Review by Benjamin Wald
Subterranean Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596067554
Date: 31 March 2016 List Price $40.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
K.J. Parker, recently revealed as a pseudonym of fantasy writer Tom Holt, has quickly become one of my all time favorite fantasy authors. Downfall of the Gods, his latest work, contains many of the things I've come to expect and love from Parker, including a wonderfully dry sense of humor and a rare combination of taking moral issues very seriously, but still recognizing how thorny and unclear questions of right and wrong truly are. However, this novella lacks the quality that tied these virtues together into truly compelling stories--memorable and complex characters. The characters in Downfall of the Gods just don't feel as real, or as interesting, as those in Parker's previous work, and this leaves the work as a whole feeling a bit too glib, lacking the pull of Parker's other work.
Unlike most of Parker's novel length works, this novella prominently features the supernatural. Indeed, the first person narrator of the story is a goddess, omnipotent except for her more powerful relatives, including her father. As goddess of forgiveness, she is ordered by her father to forgive lord Archias for the murder of her favorite musician, Lysippus. She reluctantly agrees, but only if Archias will fulfill a task to prove his repentance--retrieve Lysippus from the underworld.
The story is told in a fairly light style, with the omnipotent Gods trading quips with one another and getting on each others nerves, and the harried lord Archias is constantly annoyed by the divine intervention to which he is subject. While entertaining to read, this very lightness of tone saps some of the depth from the characters. I have no idea how someone would really react to being threatened with eternal torment and charged with an impossible quest, but Archias' annoyance does not strike me as particularly plausible, and this prevents me ever getting a real sense of him as a character. We get a better sense of what our narrator is like, but since being a Goddess seems to involve mostly idle meddling and boredom, she is not particularly compelling. Since these are the two characters we spend most of our time with, this thinness to both of their characterizations makes it hard to connect to the deeper moral issues Parker raises in the story.
While the story is a quick and entertaining read, it lacks the depth and layers of other Parker works. Even compared to other novellas, such as Blue and Gold, this story feels thin and insubstantial. I enjoyed it, but it didnít live up to the high expectations created by Parkerís previous works.