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REVIEW: The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Dear Ms. Carter,

The Hades and Persephone story is my favorite Greek myth, and I can never get enough of it. Sometimes I feel like all you need to do is mention that a story is a Hades and Persephone retelling and I’m there. So the premise for your debut was more than enough reason for me to pick it up. Unfortunately, I need more than a favorite premise to make me like a book.

The Goddess Test by AImee CarterKate Winters has left the familar sights of New York to accompany her mother to her hometown. Kate’s mother is dying of cancer. Her prognosis isn’t good and in fact, she’s already far outlived any life expectancy estimates. So even though it means moving to a strange town for her senior year, Kate does it because she isn’t ready to say goodbye. Her mother is the most important person in the world to her, and Kate will do anything to extend their time together as much as possible.

Kate’s arrival in her mother’s hometown is rocky. She immediately draws the ire of the resident mean girl cheerleader. But when a cruel prank goes fatally awry, Kate meets a mysterious young man named Henry who saves her classmate’s life. Of course, he does so in exchange for a promise: Kate must read the story of Hades and Persephone, which in turn will tell her what he wants her to do. Never mind the minor detail that people usually can’t bring the dead back to life and that if they can, something is probably very wrong with the situation.

So when Kate refreshes herself on the myth, she realizes the truth: for the rest of her life, she’s to spend half of the year living with Henry. Kate is horrified at the idea and refuses — to tragic results. So she re-negotiates with him to reverse what happens and she will do what he wants. And in exchange, he will allow Kate to spend as much time with her mother as she needs, until she is able to say goodbye. But when she moves into the mansion, she realizes the truth. You see, Henry is a god and the only way for him to retain his position is to take a bride. Many girls have come before Kate, and all of them have failed. Kate is the last candidate before time runs out and if she fails, then Henry will give up his position to another.

To determine her worthiness, Kate has to pass several tests. The problem is that she doesn’t actually know what any of the tests are and no one will tell her. Not one to control her fate here, is she? Because how can you prepare for a test if you don’t know how you’re being tested and what you’re being tested for.

In fact, Kate spends most of the book in a perpetual state of cluelessness and ignorance. It makes a very quick read but also a frustrating one. I felt like we were being led through the story but not allowed to experience it. Kate sails through the tests successfully, but does it matter? We don’t know what they were nor do we know what attributes and traits they tested. Does Kate experience any actual setbacks? Not particularly. There are interpersonal conflicts but they were handled so superficially so as to strip any and all excitement from the story. This would be my biggest complaint about The Goddess Test. The plot proceeds on such an even keel, missing the highs and lows that make a story engaging and memorable. Overall, I personally found the book superficial and slight. In most aspects, it lacked depth — the relationships with her classmates, the other people in the house and even Henry. I just couldn’t find it in myself to care.

The one aspect that I did like, however, was Kate’s relationship with her mother. Kate has given up a lot to take care of her dying mother. There is no resentment or whining about not being able to have a “normal” teenage life. For all long as Kate can remember, all she’s ever had is her mother. Kate’s father has never been in the picture and she doesn’t care. She loves her mother, so much so that she dropped everything to accompany her halfway across the country. There’s a quiet beauty in the way Kate learns to accept her mother’s fate and works towards letting go. The way the narrative handled the grieving and mourning process really spoke to me.

On the other hand, that goodwill was completely outbalanced by the shaky handling of the mythology. And by shaky, I mean not present or intrinsic in any way. It takes a little bit more than giving a character the name of a god, incognito or not, to make it so. Why base the story on Greek mythology if there was never any intention to adhere to the rules and customs? For example, you know how the Greek gods were mostly all related to each other in some way? Don’t worry. The Goddess Test tells us that stuff was just a lie so we don’t need to worry about that icky incest stuff. Not that I’m into incest, but that was a very big aspect defining the various relationships the Greek gods had with another.

I also didn’t care for the mixing of cosmologies either. Why in the world would the Greek gods, of all things, care about [spoiler effect=”blind”]the Seven Deadly Sins and use that upon which to base their goddess test[/spoiler]? It was such a head-scratching moment in the book for me.

I understand there’s always leeway for interpretation and subversion. I usually like that sort of thing. But this goes so far astray from the source that I honestly wonder what the point was. To have a convenient gimmick to draw people in? That just makes readers like me resentful.

While very readable, The Goddess Test ended up veering into trainwreck territory. The heroine faced no real obstacles. The mythological basis was shoddy. I love Hades and Persephone retellings, but I should have passed on this one. C-

My regards,

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Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!


  1. Janine
    May 05, 2011 @ 15:01:46

    The Hades and Persephone story is my favorite Greek myth, and I can never get enough of it. Sometimes I feel like all you need to do is mention that a story is a Hades and Persephone retelling and I’m there.

    I feel the same way about my favorite myth, which is Cupid and Psyche.

    Unfortunately, I need more than a favorite premise to make me like a book.

    So true! In fact, sometimes it’s that much more frustrating to read a great premise that isn’t well executed.

  2. John
    May 05, 2011 @ 15:25:23

    I have this in my TBR, but I’ll probably be more forgiving. It looks like a great light read for me, and I’m okay with that. :) Greek myth isn’t something I really care for on a major scale. I also like the Persephone one but think it’s a little bit overdone. I prefer Arachne’s myth for some reason. Not as romantic, but it has some nice book potential.

    Glad to see your thoughts on this. Should make for an interesting read.

  3. LG
    May 05, 2011 @ 15:28:27

    This is on my TBR list, because I just finished Abandon, was left disappointed, and had The Goddess Test (among other books also based on the myth) recommended to me. I really, really want to like this book, because this myth was one of my favorites. I’ll cross my fingers that the weaknesses of the book don’t bother me as much.

  4. LauraB
    May 05, 2011 @ 15:45:03

    I’ve started this one and was wondering what felt wrong about it. There’s no development of relationships.

    After this review and the meh feel of the story, I am afraid this book is gonna end up as a DNF.

    Like John I am partial to Arachne for its book length potential. I also find Orpheus and Eurydice as well as Pygmalion and his statue interesting
    : )

  5. Audrey
    May 05, 2011 @ 15:58:41

    I liked the book in general, but I agree with you about the [spoiler]. That confused me too.

  6. Jia
    May 05, 2011 @ 16:31:20

    @LG: It’s funny that you mention Abandon. I tried to read that because it was Hades and Persephone by Meg Cabot! But I couldn’t get into the book — the beginning was jerky in terms of having constant (poorly done, in my opinion) flashbacks and tons of needless exposition.

    @LauraB: I agree that the relationships don’t develop in any interesting, or even noticeable, way.

  7. Andrea K Host
    May 05, 2011 @ 18:27:09

    I’m curious – it sounds like the story starts out with a sensible direction to read about Persephone, which she does. Does she continue to research Greek myths and legends once she figures out what’s going on? Are the tests things she could better meet if she read up on Hades more?

    The Persephone/Hades myth is one which has long interested me (though I am made uncomfortable by marriage-by-force), and it’s the source of one of my favourite poems, one by A D Hope called “The Return of Persephone”, which is about the first time Persephone is allowed to go back for her six months of sun. The last two stanzas are amazing:

    And still she did not speak, but turned again
    Looking for answer, for anger, for command:
    The eyes of Dis were shut upon their pain;
    Calm as his marble brow, the marble hand
    Slept on his knee. Insuperable disdain

    Foreknowing all bounds of passion, of power, of art,
    Mastered but could not mask his deep despair.
    Even as she turned with Hermes to depart,
    Looking her last on her grim ravisher
    For the first time she loved him from her heart.

  8. Jia
    May 05, 2011 @ 18:41:12

    @Andrea K Host: She does have to study Greek mythology because she has to take exams and quizzes about her basic knowledge. But the actual tests to see if she’d make a proper consort? No, they actually have nothing to do with Greek mythology at all. (I say what the tests are under the spoiler.)

  9. Noozie
    May 05, 2011 @ 20:51:00

    I was wondering then–do you have any recommended Hades and Persephone retellings? I’d love to read them.

  10. LauraB
    May 05, 2011 @ 23:51:33

    @Noozie: I am a fan of PC Cast’s _Goddess of Spring_

  11. DS
    May 06, 2011 @ 06:47:14

    It’s not YA but in 1994 Roberta Gellis reimagined Persephone and Hades as the story of powerful mages rather than gods. DAZZLING BRIGHTNESS is oop but not hard to time for a reasonable price on Amazon or elsewhere. She also did Psyche and Eros, Ariadne and Dionysus, Hecate and her black dog, and Orpheus and Eurydice. Don’t worry about the potentially tragic endings– she works them all out to be happy.

  12. Helen
    May 06, 2011 @ 08:27:42

    @Andrea K Host:
    I loved those two stanzas so much I had to go check the whole thing out. I also took a look at BN to see if any of his work had been turned into an electronic version but no luck. What beautiful writing. I checked out a few others as well and he just has impeccable rhythm.

  13. Maura
    May 06, 2011 @ 14:27:48

    Is there a reason given why she should care whether Henry has to give up his position to someone else? I don’t see a lot of motivation here for her to succeed at the tests.

  14. Ceilidh
    May 06, 2011 @ 15:29:00

    I got an ARC from NetGalley and thought it was readable but mediocre right up until the end, then it turned into a cheap shot waste of time. There was nothing about the book that did the Greek myths justice, the gods and goddesses were barely shells of their former glory and the saving graces of the book ended with a giant F You to the reader with that screwy move of an ending. The mixing of mythologies was just perplexing.

  15. Jia
    May 06, 2011 @ 15:55:23

    @Maura: There’s really no motivation for her to succeed. The only reason why she agrees to go with him in the first place is because of her mother but even Kate has to realize that’s not forever because her mother has to die at some point.

  16. Diane
    May 11, 2011 @ 14:06:55

    My book, “Heir to the Underworld” (by E.D. Walker) isn’t a strict retelling of the Persephone/Hades myth but it still includes a lot of elements from the story woven into it. People who like retellings might like it. It’s a YA fantasy.

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