Title: City of Gods: Hellenica
Author: Jonathan Maas
Series: City of Gods #1
In a world where gods and mortals squabble over a constantly changing set of countries, Hellenica has dared to try something different. They have chosen 16 different beings with their various powers to train as peacemakers. People who might be able to change the status quo. Of those, the wildcards are the four Horsemen, whose powers no one fully understands and whose destiny points towards great things . . .
I’ll be honest—I really enjoyed this as a story about kids with powers, but I think the kids with powers shouldn’t have been associated with the Horsemen. For one, the White Knight doesn’t appear to be Conquest, but reminds me more of the rider from Revelation 19:11-16, which has imagery depicting someone with powerful speech. Also Pestilence is used here, which has a very interesting set of powers but doesn’t technically seem to jibe with the descriptions of Revelation 6:1-8, which reads more like Conquest, War, Famine, and Death. The only reason this MATTERS to me is because we are talking about various gods and legends, and by and large everyone else fits pretty well into their source material (I was highly amused to see Dagon show up. Talk about obscure deities).
That’s also what trips me up on some of the other details. We have Horsemen, who are part of Christian doctrine, but they have no horses. They don’t even seem aware of the existence of God, with the possible exception of Tommy, but there’s no indication Tommy actually BELIEVES in the faith of his hospital. Saoirse even worships a completely different goddess. They not only don’t have horses, there seems to be no need or desire for them. So again, this really works well as kids with powers, but I have a ton of trouble buying these are actually the Horsemen. I don’t really care that two of them got gender-flipped to female to provide a balanced team. The other things bugged me more.
Once I decided to pretend these weren’t actually the Horsemen but rather just a bunch of kids with interesting powers, I could enjoy the rest of the story a lot more. There’s a good mix of personalities as well as powers. Tommy’s kind and caring nature is at odds with the fact that he’s basically a walking vector for every disease known to man (and probably will accidentally invent new ones if that’s what it takes to infect someone). Kayana is highly intelligent but absolutely clueless about the workings of normal humanity and tends to view things in a very black-and-white manner. Saoirse has very ill-defined powers, but being raised as a high-class prostitute has left her attentive to the subtleties of humanity, and she prefers to avoid conflict and seek to talk her way out of problems. Gunnar feels like he got the short end of the stick. He’s Spartan, raised in a culture of war, and a pit fighter—but apart from a few glossed over fights at the start most of his matches do little to highlight any unusual skill or any kind of power. I was particularly miffed at the bout with the Amazon near the end. They don’t have any divine power, and he should, so why couldn’t it have turned out a bit differently?
Gunnar’s the one I hope develops the most, as nothing he’s really done so far has hinted at him being anything different than a Spartan, except the mystery of what he did with his rite for adulthood that has cast him out of Spartan society.
Overall I did enjoy this. It was fun to see so many different cultures and gods represented, even though the story mostly picks a few varied examples rather than try to handle absolutely everything. The friendship between the four main characters is growing, and if this book is any indication the story will continue to unfold in unexpected ways. I rate this book Recommended.
(And if you want a less ambiguous take on the Horsemen, I highly recommend Riders, by Veronica Rossi.)