Ah humanity, you are a contrary and wondrously messed-up beast.
Ream upon ream is written is written by adventure-hungry mortals seeking a life far bigger and more exciting than the one already possessed, film upon film lifts supposed nothings out of the banal trappings of the everyday only to have them come alive with the thrilling newness and revelatory nature of it all.
And yet when it happens in real life, with “real life” being the imagined, very funny driven world of The Gods of Love by Nicola Mostyn, we’re suddenly none-too-keen on shaking things up and seeing the resulting pieces land.
Well, Frida McKenzie isn’t.
A highly-successful divorce lawyer, love cynic and ambitious young woman who at the age of 29 has much of what she already desired in her hands, and the rest just a little out of reach, ready to be handed to her if her meeting with dominant worldwide technology NeoStar takes her into its fold, she wants a glamorous, exciting and fulfilling life.
Just not, as it turns out, one decreed by the events of fate, who it turns out, are a little more expansive than even the rich tableau of possibilities she has envisaged.
When a young earnest man called Dan storms, reasonably politely, but firmly, into her office one day, telling she is the Chosen One and he is the latest Oracle of Delphi come to guide her to the salvation of the world with his visions and know-how, she is, understandably less than impressed.
“‘Dan, I’m Dan,’ he says and gives me a disarming smile. ‘I know it’s rude of me to barge in like this, but I’ve been searching for you for a long time, Frida. A very long time. And I need to tell you something.'” (P. 6)
You can well understand why.
As Dan’s story progresses, both on that fateful day in the office, and later in the wreckage of a life she no longer recognises, Frida is told she is the latest descendant of the God of Love Eros, imprisoned on Olympus by the closing of the portal between the realm of the gods and our own by his younger, and incredibly bitter brother Anteros, once the God of Love Returned and now just the God of Anti-Love.
More than a little put out at not receiving the rapturous honours handed to his big brother, and determined to be known and adored, Anteros has spent millennia amongst mortals, scheming and plotting to find the arrow fired by Hades into the heart of Persephone before he spirited her off to a life of imprisoned “love” in the black-clad depths of Hades.
An act attributed to Eros, who gets the credit even for Anteros’s dark acts, the arrow in question has immense power which the spurned younger brother plans to, you guessed it, do unspeakably bad things to a world which he, and other gods in his cohort, view with undisguised scorn.
That’s the scenario into which Dan unceremoniously plonks a highly-sceptical, then alarmed then angry Frida who reacts much like any of us would – less with enthralment at the idea that the gods, the Underworld and the stories of Greek mythology are true, all amazingly true, and more with fury that her tidy successful life has been upended by the machinations of celestial beings she barely even believes in.
The story itself is an absolute hoot to read, a page-turning rush to get the arrow, keep the arrow and spoil Anteros’s plans – spoiler alert: It’s a great deal more complicated than that – filled with engaging characters, some very witty lines and a deliciously postmodern take on the gods of ancient myth and worship.
What makes it really zing along are two key things.
One, Mostyn doesn’t turn Frida into an instant hero; nor even after events have run their course into someone interested in remaining a hero.
She is deliciously, wonderfully down-to-earth, a hero who rises to the course most definitely, but who never loses herself or what she has always valued in the process; there’s even a scene where she and Dan are trying to find where the arrow might be, holed up in his tiny apartment in a dubiously-appointed part of town with only pizza, wine and frustration for company, where she all but decries the standard hero trajectory.
“‘I can assure you that I’m one hundred per cent normal human.’ My head is now throbbing painfully. ‘Listen,’ I say, ‘I can just about accept all this magical shit is real. I mean, okay, it’s a bit of a shocker, but hey, fine, whatever. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio”, and all that. But I can assure you that all of this has NOTHING to do with me. Come on! I’m the descendant of a god?’ I Laugh. ‘ I suck at this. I’ve already been kidnapped twice today and it’s not even six o’clock. Surely they must see that I’m just a normal, innocent human being? I mean, I cannot understand, even for a moment, why they’d think that I …'” (P. 71)
All of which that when Frida does get serious about saving the day, and there are twists and turns aplenty when this happens, she doesn’t do it as overwhelmingly perfectly or all-conqueringly as Marvel and countless YA dystopian novels would have you believe is standard is when a human being finds their life is anything but ordinary,
It adds a deeply-accessible quality to Frida that makes her eminently likeable and thereby grants The Gods of Love, a delightfully flawed humanity that you will recognise and identify in an instant, and imbuing the page-turning plot with the very kind of realness that the gods are trying to stamp out with their evil, reckless plotting.
The other enriching ingredient in this highly-readable and immensely-enjoyable stew is Mostyn’s willingness to talk at length about love and happiness and inner peace in a plot that barely pauses for breath.
A philosophical treatise it is not, nor does Mostyn intend for it to be; The Gods of Love is an entertaining rip-roaring read and unapologetically so.
But running through it is an oft-melancholy musing about the nature of mortality and conjectured-immortality, about the way we crave soul, acceptance and belonging and yet fumble when it falls, initially happily, into our grasp.
It brings a richness and resonance to a novel filled with great humour, sparkling imagination and high adventure, a brilliantly fun read that, along with changing everything you though you knew about the gods and history, cautions you, in the most immersively-clever of ways, to be careful what you wish for.
You will possibly get it, but just like Frida (OK well, not exactly but you get my drift), it may not look like anything like you imagined.