I think I bought this one at Hatchard’s, having picked it up because the premise sounded interesting: modern-day American woman gets flung through fire into another world (like a Celto-Scottish-Ancient-Greek hybrid) where’s she’s taken to be a goddess. It’s the first in a series which includes Divine by Choice and Divine by Blood, but was originally published in 2001 as Goddess by Mistake.
Our protagonist and narrator is Shannon Parker, a 35-year-old English teacher in a high school in a suburb of Tulsa, who begins her story on the first day of the summer vacation, travelling to a house sale in rural Oklahoma. Determined to buy something, she at first decides on a dragon print, but then sees a Celtic vase on which has been painted her exact likeness, even down to the red hair and the scar on the hand. Strange things happen to her when she’s near it, and – when she finally obtains it, and is on her way home – even stranger things happen, until she is flung through a fiery portal and eventually wakes somewhere entirely different.
The first person she sees looks exactly like her friend Suzanna, a college professor, and so at first Shannon is uncertain why Suz is dressed so strangely and insists on calling her my Lady, or Rhiannon. But this is Alanna, and Shannon is in Partholon now, having taken the place of Epona’s Avatar on Partholon, the Lady Rhiannon. Cast soon establishes that Shannon’s arrival is a god-send (or a goddess-send) since Rhiannon was a selfish bitch and Shannon is a much nicer person, wanting to get along with everyone she meets. Many people she meets in this new world are counterparts of friends, family and students, and Shannon relates to them first because of that resemblance, forgetting (as, conveniently, does the author) that they might be different – as she and Rhiannon are – in Partholon.
Almost the first thing she has to do is to be handfast to a centaur in ritual marriage (not something Rhiannon was keen on, since in addition to being a bitch, she was also a promiscuous sort, and didn’t want to be tied down to just one man/centaur). Being a romance genre novel, the centaur is of course handsome and well-built (and our heroine likes horses – luckily, since Epona is a Celtic horse goddess), and altogether too nice to be true.
Despite the fact that Shannon speaks markedly differently and behaves startlingly unlike Rhiannon, no-one twigs that she is not Rhiannon for some time (apart from Alanna, who knew she wasn’t, having rescued her on arrival), and of course by that time she’s fallen in love with her centaur hubbie, ClanFintan, and realised there’s a serious danger to ‘her’ people, in the invading and evil Fomorians.
The novel is a bit cliched, it’s true, and not elegantly written (despite the fact that Shannon teaches English), since Cast writes Shannon’s narration as though she’s speaking to the reader in a very informal conversational style:
“This screwed-up place was becoming home to me. I closed my eyes and buried my face into my husband’s shoulder, and I realized that part of me was already attached to this world.
Damn Rhiannon and her meddling and scheming. Damnit, why couldn’t I have married a nice lawyer and raised 2.5 maladjusted children in the suburbs and paid a fortune to a handsome shrink named something vaguely Italian who I could fantasize about, but never be literally unfaithful with?
Instead, I get this bizarre mirror world filled with a horse/guy who I have the serious hots for, creatures who are terrorizing civilization, my ass which is extremely sore, complete with saddle sores beginning on my inner thighs and deodorantless armpits that probably stink and no toilet paper.
As my students would succinctly say, This sucks.”
However, Shannon puts in a few good jokes, the plot rolls along in a rollicking fashion, with very few longueurs (apart from the rather tasteful obligatory sex scene), and there’s danger and excitement in plenty, as well as some truly horrible bits. Being told the story from Shannon’s viewpoint is not necessarily a bad thing, for it gets the reader close to the action, but this reader couldn’t help also wondering what had happened to Rhiannon, and what she was doing (and when the second pot turned up, how it got there) – presumably in Shannon’s world. The world-building is a bit clumsy and generic, with its odd fusion of Celtic and Ancient Greek myth; no-one is ugly, or crippled (apart from the Incarnate Muse, Thalia, who is blind), and even smallpox scars fade.
The other main difficulty in the novel is about the Fomorians – this is really only a minor quibble – but one can’t quite believe in them. Yes, they’re nasty, sadistic, insecto-humanoid types who take pleasure in rape and killing – and it’s because they are all so relentlessly nasty that it’s not quite believable. I could have believed in them if they needed blood to feed, for example, which would have made them just as much a foe to fear and to fight, it’s the fact that none of them seem to think that rape and torture are not absolutely necessary and pleasurable. Cast mentions, briefly, female Fomorians and then forgets about them – they might as well all be orcs, but without a fearsome master whipping them on.
It’s a mistake to make your villains too nasty, which is why Rhiannon also doesn’t ring true – she seems to have no virtues whatsoever. Her disinclination to be ‘tied down’ to one man (or centaur) is seen as a Bad Thing, and of course she’s given no opportunity to redeem her previous selfish behaviour since she’s stuck in Shannon’s world for the remainder of the book.
Anyway, apart from those minor things, I enjoyed this rather brainless romp, and may well end up reading the other two books.