I was sent a copy of the Grumpy Old Gods: Volume 1 anthology of short stories by one of the authors and I was really excited to read it. I’ve always loved mythology, reading about the different pantheons and the mischief the gods and heroes get up to. My interest in mythology has crossed over into my reading habits and I love to read other writers interpretations of myths and the pantheons. Some of my favourite books are Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series.
So the idea of a selection of stories based on what happens after the gods prime time, after their heyday or just when they get a bit bored of their current duties was right up my alley. Read on to find out what I thought of Grumpy Old Gods: Volume 1!
What happens when gods wane, retire, or just decide they need a change of employment?
13 writers took up the challenge and let their imaginations run wild in this anthology that is nearly-always amusing, somewhat insightful, and completely irreverent as we imagine the gods of yore in retirement.
I’ll be perfectly honest; of all the godly mishaps I’ve read previously none of them has covered the idea of gods retiring. That in itself grabbed my attention because when you think about it, it’s really obvious, isn’t it? Beings that have been around for millennia, since the beginning of time even, will get bored just like everyone else. And when that happens anything could happen. These are primordial beings who have power over the elements, natural, the fundamental forces of the world at their fingertips. If one of them just suddenly decided one day to call it quits, what would happen?
The synopsis for the anthology is short and sweet, and yet it draws you by letting your own imagination go wild with possibilities.
Unlike my normal book reviews, this one will be taking a slightly different format; I’ll be reviewing each of the stories individually as well as the anthology as a whole.
First up is….
Pan by Vanessa Wells:
Gwen Henson is a witch trainee with a nose for trouble; when she gets into something deeper than her mentor can help her with, they are forced to contact a cantankerous former god for help…help that he is willing to give, for a price.
The summary for this one doesn’t really do this story justice. There is so much more to it and the story itself felt like it could be part of a larger world. I’d be interested to read more about Gwen and see where her story takes her. It was a well-written story and a great start to the anthology.
A Low Key Game Night by Elizabeth Shaffer:
Family Game night is always a risky situation when a former god of mischief is involved; add in a son bringing a new mortal girlfriend to meet the godly household and the stakes get a bit more interesting than anyone intended.
I absolutely loved this story it was everything I expected and more from a game night with Loki (love the play on words in the title) and his family. If you know your Norse mythology you’ll be aware that Loki’s family is… unconventional to say the least. The author managed to handle this with aplomb, mixing wit and humour to create a scenario that worked. As a geeky girl, I appreciated a female protagonist that was believable, as well as the inclusion of a career where gaming as a hobby is useful.
For Want of a Feather by Andrew Dunlop:
When the God in charge of afterlife management goes AWOL, two intrepid (if somewhat dead) souls and a talking cat set off to find him. What they find isn’t exactly what they anticipated.
I absolutely loved this story and it wasn’t just the sassy cat that stole my heart (really, it wasn’t!). A wonderfully unique view of what happens after death, and the realisation that perhaps gods really aren’t that different from us after all. It was a really heartwarming story.
Out of Luck by Vanessa Finaighty:
Loki, God of Mischief has a history of going too far: when one of his pranks goes wrong, he and the rest of Gods are out of luck…literally.
Loki has always been a popular choice for writers, and he’s the only god to be the focus of two stories in this anthology. While both stories are completely different each focus on Loki’s unique family. While A Low Key Game Night introduced all of Loki’s brood, this story by Vanessa Finaighty focuses on one of his children who end up afoul of their father’s pranks. Unfortunately for Loki, and everyone else, the result of this particular prank backfires spectacularly leading this child of Loki to take things into their own hands.
Out of Luck is a clever take on a minor deity, what it’s like to have Loki for a father and how very easily pranks can go wrong.
Rule 34 by Avery Vanderlyle
When the Primal Terror goes AWOL, Demeter is forced to chase him down in order to keep humanity from destroying themselves; unfortunately, he has a new hobby, and it’s for mature audiences only.
To say this story was random, eccentric and completely amazing all rolled into one would probably be an understatement. I’m not even sure how to begin to describe this one. In Rule 34 pantheons co-exist with each mythological figure having a divine purpose in the natural order of things. When Cthulhu, the Primal Terror, suddenly goes AWOL it causes a massive problem in the grand scope of things. If someone doesn’t get him back to his divine duty then things are going to get apocalyptically bad – unfortunately he’s found a new hobby and it’s rated 18+.
Demeter and co have to find a way to get one of the most powerful and terrifying beings in all existence to go back to work without upsetting him because no one wants to anger Cthulhu. The result is a hilarious, completely wrong and innuendo-filled short story that you didn’t realise you needed. This could have been a total horror show (no pun intended), however, it’s written so well that it works.
God of Morning by Elizabeth McCleary:
When Morrow, god of morning is informed he is in danger of losing his position to Chaos god of well…chaos, he has to pull himself out of his recent funk and find joy in the morning once more.
This beautiful story is one that makes us all look at ourselves and what our actions mean to those around us. When Chaos threatens to take Morrow’s job the god struggles to come up with a reason why he deserves to keep his job as god of the morning. It’s a story about recognising our own personal significance in the world which is something everyone needs now again – even gods.
Zeus Really Needs To Go by Shawn Klimek:
Lactose intolerance and a distinct lack of a statute of limitations combine to give the former King of Olympus one very bad day.
My least favourite story in the anthology and one of the reasons why it didn’t quite make five out of five stars. I knew without checking that this was written by a man; the female characters were consistently sidelined, and a huge feminist issue was hidden beneath pages of toilet humour rather than being given the attention it deserved. It was the conclusion of the story, the entire point that it was driving to and instead of using carefully written scenes to reach the conclusion the reader is taken through a pointless commentary about Zeus’ bowels. If the author was aiming for a satirical comment regarding the #MeToo movement and how it is regarded by some people then the attempt fell completely flat. Rather it felt as though women were being completely mocked.
Also, for the record; Toilet humour isn’t funny. Take it from someone with a bowel condition. The level of immaturity shown in laughing at lactose intolerant people, bowel conditions and the elderly throughout this story is just absolutely disgusting.
Breaking the Habit by Ronel Janse von Vuuren:
Odin finds that escaping his throne to make mischief at a rest home might be exactly what the doctor ordered.
This is one of my favourite stories in the anthology. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of writing that hits all the right notes; it’s heartwarming, it feels true to character, and it ends with a question. It takes on the topic of growing old and the fear of death and combines it with Odin’s mischief in a way that doesn’t make light of the gravity of the situation. This isn’t a writer that has chosen a rest home scenario to write about a god but rather chosen the character of a god to write about a rest home.
The New Chief Medical Officer by Tom Vetter:
Controlled chaos reigns in the Elysian Fields Retirement facility. The new chief medical officer arrives to take charge; but when retired gods are involved, nothing is ever as easy as it seems at first glance.
It’s very difficult to write a review about this one without ruining it. It’s one of those stories that needs to be experienced to enjoy the full brilliance of it. It’s a masterpiece that leads you down one road while something else entirely is happening. When I finished the story I set the book down, grinned and clapped in delight at the conclusion. You will not be disappointed with this one!
Playing Hooky by Juneta Key:
Death’s FA can’t catch a break; the head reaper himself has gone AWOL and someone placed an ad in the Paranormal Chronicles implying that the position was open! Now Alister has a waiting room full of deities who are demanding to interview for the position, a position he’s fairly certain can’t be filled by anyone except Death himself!
Poor Alister is living an absolute nightmare; his boss has disappeared and has apparently put out an advert for his replacement?! Naturally, every deity you’ve ever heard of – and some you’ve not – have decided that they’re the best for the job. With them parked out in the waiting room depending to have an interview and Death gone AWOL, it’s up to poor ole’ Alister to save the day. As you can imagine hilarity ensures with that many powerful deities under one roof.
This story is part humour and part mystery, and it was a wonderful read which manages to pack in a whole load of pantheons without overfilling the story.
Harbinger of Doom by Katharina Gerlach:
A mortal with a distasteful job finds that he can be more than he ever dreamed, if he simply has the courage to reach out and take what he wants.
This is a strange little story with a heart of gold. While it didn’t quite grab my attention as much as some of the others in this anthology it’s a sweet story will have you smiling at the end. The title and narrative seem at odds with one another throughout the story which keeps you on your toes. You are following the story trying to work out what is happening and you end up hoodwinked. It’s a really simple tactic and it works perfectly. Harbinger of Doom wasn’t quite my cup of tea but it’s a lovely story and personally, I’d have put it at the end of the anthology as it’s just the right note to end on.
Whither Athena by Marshall J. Moore:
In which Althea Stagg has a client she can’t refuse and a missing Goddess who has no intention of returning: caught between two primal beings, what’s a demi-goddess detective to do?
Overall this story is exceptionally written, however, it has one big issue in it that I cannot move from and anyone who knows their Greek mythology won’t be able to either. There are three core virginal goddesses in Greek mythology and each of them chose to save themselves from men for a specific reason. In this story, a character is the child of Artemis who is the one virgin goddess that was known to be extremely guarded of her virginity with legend telling of how Actaeon and Orion, among others, met a violent end when they tried to dishonour her.
Artemis’ vow of celibacy is a core part of who she is as a Goddess and a character, and for me personally, the author failed to take this into consideration when utilising Artemis as a character. Rather than staying true to the legend of the goddess of the hunt, Artemis was reduced as a plot device to allow a character to have certain abilities so that they could solve a mystery and find a missing Goddess. The Greek pantheon is huge, and I’m certain that if a godly parent was required, rather than any of the many mythological and magical elements present in Greek mythology, another god could have been used. To use Artemis feels lazy, and otherwise, the story is anything but lazy. It is well written, with a fabulous storyline and dialogue but this taints all that hard work for me.
I would like to point out that while I’m criticising this story as a self-admitted to being a Rick Riordan fan I’m not being a hypocrite. Riordan’s Percy Jackson series features a daughter of Athena, another virginal Goddess, however, unlike this author Riordan took that into consideration. Her children are created by thought and not as the product of intercourse, therefore, not breaking her vow of celibacy. So there are ways of getting around that vow and staying true to the legends.
An enjoyable anthology is not just about the sum of its parts (the stories); it’s also about whether it successfully embodies the theme in a cohesive manner. That task falls to the editor of the anthology and is just as important as the having content to fill the anthology. A selection of stories that complement each other, that take the reader on a ride of emotions and adventures works much better than a jumble of words no one wants to read. Grumpy Old Gods: Volume 1 is mostly successful in creating a compendium of tales about gods that fit with the anthology’s synopsis. As you can probably tell from my review there is one glaringly obvious example that I feel did not fit at all, and there are a few others that I feel were great stories yet didn’t quite fit with the topic.
What I did absolutely love was the massive amount of variety when it came to pantheons and deities! I expected to find Greek and Roman gods everywhere. When I did come across the top three pantheons (Greek, Roman, Norse) there were many examples of minor deities explored. What some of the writers did let themselves down on though was their lack of research. It is particularly frustrating to come across people writing about mythological characters and then getting their Greek and Roman names mixed up. While the gods of those two pantheons may share a lot of similarities they are separate deities with entirely different personalities and traits. It’s like saying a tiger and a house cat are the same because they’re both cats.
It was these few problems, and the two stories that I felt were particularly problematic, that brings my rating for the anthology down from a 5/5 to a 4/5. For an initial outing, it’s a great start, and with better editing and story selection it can only get better. There are two other volumes of Grumpy Old Gods now available; Volume 2 which follows the same theme as this one and Volume 3 which is a special spooky themed edition.
Books in the Series
Over to you
What do you think of Grumpy Old Gods: Volume 1 ? Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the anthology and recommend it to anyone fans of mythology, especially if you enjoy a giggle. It’s a thought provoking selection of tales filled with wit and mischief in equal measure.
What do you think of Grumpy Old Gods? Is there any particular story that caught your eye? What deity would you like to see feature in their own grumpy old gods-style story?
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