Cool cover, huh? I read Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda (already out in the UK, I believe, and coming out from Hyperion in January) because it's nominated for the Cybils. I probably would have read it anyway; its predecessor, Devil's Kiss, is recommended highly by a friend of mine (though she didn't recommend it to me, thinking that I might not like some of the theme). I considered, strongly, finding some time to read the first book--but then I thought, what the heck, I have an advance copy anyway, let's read a little of the beginning and see if I like it. Ah, rarity: a second book in a series that very much stands alone.
But a little of what's gone before is appropriate. In Devil's Kiss, we (must have been)/are introduced to Bilqis SanGreal, whose heritage is English and Pakistani. I understand that religion plays a big role in this book, particularly as Billi becomes part of a reinvented Knights Templar; their current-day mission is to battle all that is Unholy, which might mean werewolves, ghul (vampires), and evil angels. As a fun fact, Chadda has stated that Billi is inspired by his daughters--their father was raised Muslim, their mom is a vicar's daughter, and so heroine Billi too navigates real-life cultures in addition to those that are the fantasy of the books.
Billi has had a rough time in book one, and book two opens with her discovery of Vasilisa, a very special young girl who can manipulate and is manipulated by nature. She and the Knights Templar, in between kicking werewolf butt Buffy-style, need to find a safe place for Vasilisa to learn to control her powers so that she doesn't, say, cause an apocalyptic natural disaster. Vasilisa is kidnapped by werewolves, though, and taken home to Russia at the command of the greatest, most powerful witch ever, ever, ever:
The Knights need to find Vasilisa quickly, because in three days, Baba Yaga is planning an end to the world as we know it. Whether it's on the streets of Moscow with the Bogatyr, the Knights Templar's Russian counterparts, or on a cross-country chase through ancient forest with the valiant Ivan (who's meant to lead the Bogatyr one day), or right in the werewolves' camp, Billi's risking her life with every breath. Whose life would she trade to save us all?
Billi kicks ass in this book. She's battered, broken, bleak, but moving, moving. It reminds me of running long road races, when you're on autopilot, but you know that the cutoff bus is coming to pick you up and take you off the course. I adore her strength and vulnerability. I especially adore, though, that there is no authorly apologizing for Billi being Billi, just as she is. If she wants to die, well, she chose to fight her fight. If she wants to fall in love, well, she can choose to, and not just because there was some guy who makes her feel safe and protected. She exists as part of larger teams, but she exists as herself first. Can you tell I really, really like this girl?
Wondrous Reads has an interview with the author where he talks about his research for this book and Billi as an old-school heroine, as well as fearsome females; I've been thinking about female monsters lately, so I have some new tangents to think about.
I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee.