The Goddess Project by Bryan Wigmore

The Judge

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I’ve had real problems producing this review for TGP, three of them in fact.

The first problem: I wanted to produce a witty, insightful piece which would both do justice to this brilliant novel and immediately persuade everyone reading it to go and buy a copy. Wit and insight being in short supply, what follows will have to be plain and no doubt boring – which is my fault, not the novel’s. So in the absence of something more scintillating, here is the persuasion:

STOP READING THIS. GO BUY A COPY OF THE GODDESS PROJECT
AND SEE FOR YOURSELF HOW BRILLIANT IT IS.


The second problem: while I can’t claim to be its midwife, let alone its fairy godmother, I’ve certainly been an anxious great-aunt where TGP is concerned, watching over its steady growth from infancy. And though I hadn’t read the final, final revised version until now, I still knew all the twists and turns of the plot, the good guys doing bad things, the bad guys – well, one of him – doing some good things, some apparently good guys not being at all good. The experience of coming to TGP fresh is largely lost to me – being shocked at gunshots that send echoes through the novel, or delighted at Otter’s turns of phrase, or gobsmacked at the sheer scope and inventiveness of the magic that is on show. You lucky blighters who have yet to read it, have all that to come, and more.

What’s the problem with that? I know what comes next, I know the background. More, I know the answers to the many mysteries raised in the novel. Who are the anonymous voices? What do the Kaybees want? What is Geist planning? What is the black wall? Where does Nightfire’s propulsion system come from? I know it all! But how to convey the brilliant intricacy and connectedness of the plot without giving spoilers? I can’t.

So, the unspoilered plot.

Orc and Cass are fish out of water – or in Orc’s case an otter who has swum too deep into dark waters where unwholesome things lurk. The pair are free-divers with all the present-day equipment that implies, but they live in a society which apparently lacks the technology to make it. They use that equipment to plunder ziggurats, flooded in a calamity centuries before, but what they really seek is a focus-stone to enable them to pierce a psychic shroud covering their memories.

The first thing they can remember is waking on a beach two years before the book opens, a man with a gun watching them, a dead body beside them. Of their childhood and adolescence there is nothing. They resemble each other, so they might be brother and sister, but they also fancy each other, so they might have been lovers. But when Cass’s life is endangered, a vision makes her fear they were both lovers and siblings, and between them they destroyed the world.

Cass's vision creates a cry of sin which is heard in the mountain fastness of Highcloud, where monks watch over the world seeking the evil of the witchmother and her sorcerer followers. The need to confront that evil brings a novitiate, Tashi, into the lower world and its temptations, and into conflict with those who are controlling what Orc and Cass do. Danger is everywhere for all three of them, as are enemies both hidden and apparent.

Characterisation in the novel is deft, description is great, dialogue natural, pace for the most part swift, and the end is exciting and fast-paced. That ending wraps up a lot of the particular issues, the goddess project itself not least, but the main mysteries (see above -- the ones to which I know the answers) are left for later books to tease out, for this is the first of a series.

The female energy is high, which is great, with women talking to other women and not just about men. An important tale about the Firestealers is wonderful, and the magical ideas incredible. Orc’s magic is shamanistic, animalistic, his animath Otter taking him into the realm of the unconscious, as well as into the waters of the ziggurat where the Sea Mother dwells. The magic of Highcloud is cerebral, bringing not only greater insight into the psychosphere but also lending strength to Tashi when need arises, though that masculine strength is a double-edged sword far more dangerous than the ones he wields. Those different magical systems go to the heart of the split between the female and male, and the disparate religions which have grown up following that separation, and which have brought the world to the verge of war.

The third problem in composing this review? Bryan is a friend, but I knew I had to make it clear that fact did not affect this review, so I needed to call out the novel’s faults. Which are... um... well... *Must think of something...* OK. *scraping the barrel* Occasionally, there’s a straining for effect in narrative, so simple actions are given slightly odd circumlocutions. Occasionally, pace is subordinated to a desire to explain everything. The main baddie is unremitting in his evilness, with no good side at all, which is perhaps a tad disappointing when everyone else is nuanced. And the out-of-time equipment and free-diving knowledge of Orc and Cass, and Cass’s very unVictorian attitude and behaviour, ought perhaps to be a greater point of conflict with other characters. More importantly, for those lusting after the dashing Captain Seriuz, he never gets his kit off. (That might just be me, then.)

For those who like to put novels into neat pigeon-holed categories, TGP is a nightmare. It’s fantastical, but not your usual fantasy of medievalness and wizards. There are swords and sorcery, but it’s most definitely not a Sword & Sorcery book. Its setting is quasi-Victorian/Edwardian, but it’s nothing like steampunk. War is on the horizon and naval officers and dreadnoughts are vital to the plot, but it’s not a military novel. The three main characters are teenagers, but it’s not YA. It’s original. And, as I might have mentioned, it’s brilliant. Go buy it.
 

Dave

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I'm only half-way through, so I didn't read any of that above. It is as good as she says, if not better. (y)

(I will have some comments, some gushing, maybe a slight criticism, but that will have to wait as I'm a slow reader.) :(
 

Kerrybuchanan

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STOP READING THIS. GO BUY A COPY OF THE GODDESS PROJECT
AND SEE FOR YOURSELF HOW BRILLIANT IT IS.
I second this. Wonderful book, and definitely worth reading. I was invested in the two main characters from the get-go, and stayed with them throughout.

Captain Seriuz... ...(That might just be me, then.)
No. Not just you. :)
 

Nick B

author Nick Bailey, formerly Quellist.
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I want this book, but now all books must wait. Our oven packed up yesterday and I've had to buy a new one. Luckily, I got paid today. Sadly Ive bought a new oven and now have doubts I can pay the mortgage in a few days time. I guess thats just hard luck. But sadly, no books for the foreseeable future.
 

dannymcg

"It places the lotion in the basket"
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I want this book, but now all books must wait. Our oven packed up yesterday and I've had to buy a new one. Luckily, I got paid today. Sadly Ive bought a new oven and now have doubts I can pay the mortgage in a few days time. I guess thats just hard luck. But sadly, no books for the foreseeable future.
Free epub here if you're interested

Burning Eagle by Naveen Weeraratne
 

Cat's Cradle

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The more praise the better for this amazing book. Read it...make your day!!
 

Dan Jones

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You otter be ashamed etc etc

By the way, great write up, TJ. I've nearly finished my second read of TGP and can only concur with what's already been said. Great book.
 

allmywires

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STOP READING THIS. GO BUY A COPY OF THE GODDESS PROJECT
AND SEE FOR YOURSELF HOW BRILLIANT IT IS.
Well, I've been thinking about this for a few days, and really, how can the above statement truly be bettered... ? I will do my best, nonetheless.

Like I imagine many of you on here, I did not come across TGP by pure happenstance; I'd been privileged enough to read snippets before, both on the critiques board and in my critique group, and have been a longstanding fan of Bryan's delightful prose. However - and whether this is a testament to my millennial, hummingbird-like attention span, you can decide - I have to admit that it took me a long time to actually read the full novel (though, I hasten to add, I bought it on release day!). But what a luxurious read it was.

I'm a character reader, insomuch as a deft plot can excite me, but not half as much as the characters do, and I've got the world's biggest weakness for a deftly built world; happily, both of these are satisfied and then some in TGP. My generalised bone to pick with fantasy is that it tends to default to a quasi-medieaval setting, where characters speak in polished soliloquies or tired tropey back-and-forths. In TGP, Orc and Cass and their supporting characters speak like - hooray! - real people, act like real people, even if sometimes that takes the form of acting like a bit of a prat, or an overdramatic so-and-so (Yup, Orc, that's directed at you, matey - love you longtime tho). They're the rare kind of characters that occupy a normally YA-dominated age range, but are treated like adults by their author, and believably so. Even the central mystery of Orc and Cass's origins, swirling as it does with the murky suggestion of incest, is at once delicately drawn and painfully real; even for me, for whom incest is normally one of those Chrissy-Teigen-grimacing kind of tropes (ten thousand AMW points to anyone who can picture what I'm talking about here).

There's Orc, caught in the grip of an otherworldly power determined to take him for herself; Cass, ever-weary 'sensible one', who struggles the most with her feelings for Orc and the consequences the might have; Tashi, struggling with the iron-chains of his religion, and reconciling it with an uncontrollable world; Otter, fire-stealer and scene-stealer for his all-too-brief appearances; and a smattering of tightly-drawn side characters helping to weave the delightfully complex tableau that makes up TGP's plot. I won't discuss that overly here, as TJ's done a much better job above, but the setting is another thing that for me, makes it a stand-out novel; set predominantly at sea and in coastal towns and cities, you can almost feel the humid sweat dripping from your nose, or the heavy weight of the ocean above when Orc and Cass go freediving, your lungs contracting with theirs as they battle against their body's limitations.

I could ramble for thousands of words; I've already started a Pinterest mood board for the series. Frankly, I can't gush about it enough, though I'll save you the descent into full fangirl mode. Tl;dr - read it. You won't regret it.
 
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