Thursday, February 3, 2011

Book Review: Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn

Product Details
Publisher: Tor Books; First Edition edition (July 6, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0765325543

The Muse Reviews Rating: 2.5 Laurels

Publisher's Description

When Evie Walker goes home to spend time with her dying father, she discovers that his creaky old house in Hope’s Fort, Colorado, is not the only legacy she stands to inherit. Hidden behind the old basement door is a secret and magical storeroom, a place where wondrous treasures from myth and legend are kept safe until they are needed again. The magic of the storeroom prevents access to any who are not intended to use the items. But just because it has never been done does not mean it cannot be done.

And there are certainly those who will give anything to find a way in.

Evie must guard the storeroom against ancient and malicious forces, protecting the past and the future even as the present unravels around them. Old heroes and notorious villains alike will rise to fight on her side or to undermine her most desperate gambits. At stake is the fate of the world, and the prevention of nothing less than the apocalypse. 

In Discord's Apple, New York Times bestselling author, Carrie Vaughn, introduces her audience to an eclectic cast drawn from a mélange of Greek, Celtic, Arthurian, Latin American and even Judeo-Christian mythology. Ms. Vaughn’s dystopian United States is caught between its allies, Russia and China, who are on the brink of nuclear war. To make matters worse, the rest of the world is poised to self-destruct at any moment. Hera, the last surviving goddess of Olympus, plans to manipulate the conflict to destroy the world and remake it to her own satisfaction. That is, if she can get her hands on Discord’s Apple – the same golden apple marked “kallisti” (for the fairest) that started the Trojan War.

Evie Walker’s father is dying. He’s been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and has decided to forego treatment. Evie leaves her job as a comic book writer in Los Angeles to drive to her hometown of Hope’s Fort, Colorado and stay with him until he passes. For generations, Evie’s family has guarded the Storeroom, which houses a collection of magical artifacts, including Discord’s Apple. As her father draws closer to death, Evie feels the mantle of guardianship settling on her shoulders. The last thing she wants is to be stuck in the tiny town of Hope’s Fort, living in the house her grandparents built. But when Hera comes looking for Discord’s Apple, Evie is forced to take on the role of Guardian sooner than she expected.

Hera isn’t working alone. She’s building a new pantheon comprised of wizards drawn from every corner of the world, including Robin Goodfellow, the fairy trickster who readers may recall from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Wanderer, whose identity is never explicitly stated. However, another character recognizes him as “he who is cursed to walk the Earth until the second coming of Christ,” so anyone familiar with Judeo-Christian mythology will identify him as the Wandering Jew.

On Evie’s side of what is shaping up to be an epic battle are King Arthur and Merlin who, true to their legend, have returned to the world in a time of great need, and Alex, formerly known as Sinon the Liar, who convinced the Trojans to bring Odysseus’s horse inside the walls. Although Alex isn’t a wizard, he wears an enchanted chain around his neck, placed there when he was taken prisoner by Apollo and which conveys immortality. Alex comes to the Storeroom looking for something that will kill him and ends up taking on the role of Evie’s protector.

Unfortunately, between her hand-wringing over her father’s deteriorating health and her complete lack of curiosity about the Storeroom, Evie didn’t do much to earn my sympathy. Despite writing a comic book with a strong female protagonist, Evie acts more like a stereotypical damsel in distress. She ignores a basement full of magical items, including weapons, in favor of trailing along while the men make all the decisions. Unless you count whacking Robin Goodfellow over the head with a cast-iron skillet while he’s dueling with Alex, the only time Evie takes any initiative is when Hera captures Frank Walker to use as a hostage to force Evie to bring her Discord’s Apple. Even then, Evie lets the men do the fighting while she drives the getaway car.

I also wasn’t crazy about Ms. Vaughn’s mythological mash-up. Although the premise of building a new pantheon from the few surviving magicians with enough power to rise to godhood could have worked, Arthur, Robin Goodfellow and the other legendary characters felt like they were hastily tacked on to what is primarily a Greek-based mythos. In addition, the end of the book was anticlimactic and some significant loose ends were left hanging. Discord’s Apple may appeal to fans of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series, but the only feeling it evoked in me was a resounding “meh.”

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