Downfall of the Gods by K J Parker – Book Review
Downfall of the Gods by KJ Parker
Novella that follows a Goddess who has been banned from punishing Lord Archias for killing her favorite musician and her journey to forgiveness
Reviewed by Jacob Edwards
The Goddess, believe it or not, is a music lover. Now, in the ordinary course of divinity you’d hardly call this a character flaw; yet when mixed with immortal stubbornness and a recrudescent streak of undying pique, it can on occasion become problematic. Such as when she refuses to grant forgiveness to the man who’s just murdered her favourite musician (despite that he’s said all the right prayers and demonstrated true remorse). Such as when her defiance of the rules threatens to bring about the Downfall of the Gods.
Last year K J Parker was revealed to be the pseudonym of English novelist Tom Holt, who adopted the nom de plume to distinguish between his established oeuvre — overtly comedic magic realism — and a new, gritty brand of invented world historical fantasy. Holt may have been outed, yet it seems both expedient and proper to maintain the separation of identities. Cynical worldviews aside, there is little to connect the two facets of Holt’s authorship. (Perhaps this tethered estrangement in part is why the Parker pen name was styled as female; in deference to the identity thus forged we shall continue to afford her the feminine pronoun.)
Downfall of the Gods is a slim, single-sitting novella. The limited edition hard copy retails at the same price as Parker’s previous work for Subterranean Press (Savages, a novel at least five times the length) and although the digital edition is cheaper, readers may well question whether they’re receiving value for money.
The flipside of this equation is that Parker has demonstrated a prior mastery of the short form — witness consecutive World Fantasy Awards for best novella, 2012-2013 — while her novels, though frequently extolled for their storytelling, do for some readers come appended with the caveat of not bringing closure at the end of the journey. The price-to-Parker ratio will of course sit more easily with some than others, but there’s no denying the efficacy of this most recent novella.
Parker’s writing has always been immersive, her characters and worlds emerging more through literary osmosis than anything so base as exposition. This is particularly evident in Downfall of the Gods, where the structuring is artful and the effect one of seemingly effortless engagement.
The story is told from the perspective of the Goddess (woman, prostitute, divine entity, self-centred child), and moves from premise to realisation in deft steps that while leading inexorably towards the dénouement still keep this endpoint concealed from Goddess and reader alike. Nor is this just Parker playing the role of trickster. Rather, it is a symptom of realism: the Goddess is who she is, and each of her actions is but a logical extension of the circumstances of her existence; the novella’s arc creeps up on the reader but is powerful as much for being inarguable as it is unexpected.
Parker’s fantasies are often categorised as being set in universes without magic and featuring characters tragically bent on self-destruction. The first of these generalisations is manifestly untrue in Downfall of the Gods but the latter holds firm despite that the protagonist is possessed of godly powers. Indeed, from the moment the Goddess makes herself known in one of Parker’s black comedies, it’s as if she’s crossed jurisdictions and forfeited all protection from cosmic irony.
Parker is no stranger to poking dark fun at human nature; nor does she hold so-called higher beings in any great esteem. What follows is a savagely erudite blurring of lines between the two, resulting ultimately in— well, nothing short of the complete dismantling of one world’s religious sanctity, achieved in just a little over a hundred pages.
Downfall of the Gods follows a Goddess who has been banned from punishing Lord Archias for killing her favorite musician and her journey...