Gwenda Bond’s The Woken Gods takes place in a world similar to ours, but where gods—the deities of our ancient mythologies—have awakened. Humanity has a perilous arrangement with the gods, and of course all kinds of people are trying to work different angles on this. Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., home to the embassies of divine pantheons and the mysterious Society of the Sun. But when she encounters two trickster gods on her way back from school, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems…
The concept of Woken Gods had me hooked from the start—I love mythology, and the idea of the gods “waking up” and returning to the world makes for a great premise. Of course, the gods don’t always have humanity’s interests at heart. Luckily for the human race there’s an organization called The Society, which knows enough about the supernatural to have been collecting relics (items imbued with the gods’ power) for generations. The Society once killed a god, proving them mortal and creating a stalemate. Now The Society is based in Washington D.C., as are the temples of seven Trickster Gods who serve as ambassadors to human society.
Against this backdrop we pick up with Kyra Locke, a typical teenager—or a girl who appears to be a typical teenager. Early on in the book, as Kyra is hanging out with her best friend Bree and her ex-boyfriend Tam, she is accosted by the gods Mehen and Set. Kyra is saved by two operatives from The Society, Oz and Justin.
Kyra knows that her mother is an oracle—or was an oracle, before she went crazy. But she soon discovers that her father, whom she thought was a simple librarian, is really a Society operative, and that he’s stolen an important relic and gone off to hide out with some gods. And that her grandfather is also associated with the Society. All of this comes as a surprise.
Kyra enlists her friends to help her locate her father and their adventure begins. There’s plenty of action, some mysteries to unravel, magic and a healthy dash of romance. Oh, and mythology. What’s great about The Woken Gods is that Bond draws from a diverse deck. The Norse gods are absent entirely and the Greek Gods only make a small appearance. Instead, most of the big players come from the mythology of the Egyptians, the Haitians, and the Sumerians. A segment dealing with the Sumerian deities was one of my favorite parts of the book. If anything, I wish that there had been more of them in the novel.
One of the problems with the book, though, is in the worldbuilding. There’s a lot going on here and the exact details aren’t always clear. The awakening of the gods has clearly affected technology, for example, such that carriages have replaced cars, but the specifics weren’t really explained. Additionally, how exactly the gods interact with humanity wasn’t clear. Gods are like celebrities—you can see one on the street, but what their role is in this society isn’t obvious.
It also took me a little while to connect with Kyra, the main character. I was pleased with her agency—the fact that she made decisions and took actions. She’s not a protagonist who spends most of her time reacting. But something about her kept me at arm’s length until about halfway through the book.
I also found the dialogue a bit awkward in places, a bit too obviously meant to squeeze some information in or to provide tension. But generally the plot keeps moving, chugging along at a brisk pace.
What’s clear is that there’s tons of potential here for further exploration. This novel gets wrapped up pretty nicely at the end but it’s not hard to imagine more stories told in this universe, with other gods, other plans, other relics, and other characters—which is not to say I wouldn’t mind seeing another Kyra-centered book. I’d be surprised if we didn’t see another novel from Bond in the future continuing to explore this world.
If you like mythology and fast moving YA novels with decisive and strong female protagonists, The Woken Gods might just be for you. It has a few problems, and is sometimes uneven, but it’s a fascinating start to what will hopefully be a new series.
The Woken Gods is available now from Strange Chemistry