Saturday, March 10, 2012

100 Books #21 - Anetta Ribken's ATHENA'S PROMISE

I was pretty much primed from the beginning to enjoy this book, early chapter drafts of which I was privileged to see because the author is a good internet friend of mine -- but not only because of that.

Set in a hotel on the edge of the questionable part of town, Athena's Promise concerns the struggles of its front desk manager, Pallas (and the naming is no coincidence, there, but I'll get to that in a minute), made all the more difficult as the story kicks in by two unwelcome events: a murder that has taken place in one of the guest rooms, and a new, unlikable and unpleasant "guest services manager" imposed on the hotel by its owners to beef up the "numbahs" and make sure it retains its corporate flag.

This new guest services manager, by the way, is a werewolf.

And he's far from the weirdest thing in this hotel or this world, for Athena's Promise is, in addition to being what is termed a "cozy mystery", an exploration of what life would be like if somehow the old Greek gods and goddesses came back (she doesn't bother explaining how that has happened, just refers to "The Crossing" and leaves it at that) and brought the whole stable of mythological creatures along for the ride. Thus one front desk clerk at Traveler's Haven is a pixie and the night auditor is a vampire, the hotel manager is Medusa (yeah, that Medusa) and the housekeeping staff consists of a lot of very kind-hearted and well-behaved and hard-working zombies. Zombies, of course, being all of those things naturally, at least before they "Turn" and become the shambling brain-eaters of familiar lore.

And the guests make the staff look plumb dull: randy centaurs flashing trashy bling and showing up demanding rooms by the hour, the better to ravish their too-willing groupies; Elementals for Environmental Protection in town to supervise work on cleaning up the Mississippi River (the city of St. Louis is never explicitly named as the locale for this story, but it is Ribken's home and the novel has the feel of St. Louis throughout); and mermaid divas who travel from city to city and strip club to strip club putting on shows and mezmerising men who then abandon wives, families and girlfriends to become the mermaids' too-devoted followers and, incidentally, steady guests at motels like Traveler's Haven.

And that isn't all, for Pallas herself, bustling around trying to maintain order AND solve the murder, is not an ordinary girl, either, and her mystery is expertly teased out in little doses throughout the novel, complementing and beefing up the neatness of the main plot.

She is, too, the narrator, and it's her unique, fierce, feisty voice that really makes this novel enjoyable. Her protectiveness towards her staff, especially the much-misunderstood zombies, her impatience with the foibles of centaur studs and barely competent cops and Guido the cheesy werewolf who thinks he's the boss of her, is wickedly fun to read, and even if you think you know her secrets from reading between the lines and applying your own meta-knowledge of Greek mythology, you really don't, not quite, but it all works very well.

This is a self-published paperback and it does have a few flaws in formatting that might bother some: the page numbers on the left-hand pages are in the wrong corner, and there are a few passages of text that, bizarrely, are centered instead of left-justified, but I urge anyone who thinks he or she might enjoy a story like this to forgive these. Ribken is a one-woman operation (except for her cover artist, Rebecca Treadway) and an original, amusing voice in fiction writing who deserves to be read.

Bring on Athena's Chains, the sequel to Athena's Promise!

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