Review: Whatever Gods May Be by Sophia Kell Hagin

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Review: Whatever Gods May Be by Sophia Kell Hagin

Postby ElaineB » 08 Jan 2012, 10:24

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Whatever Gods May Be
Author: Sophia Kell Hagin
Bold Strokes Books, 2010

Overall: 4stars

Blurb: Some get seduced by the uniform. Others want the kick-ass camaraderie. But Jamie Gwynmorgan can’t resist the sleek, dark lethality of the weapon — and the recruiter’s promise that yes, if she’s strong enough, good enough, she’ll be permitted to fire that weapon in combat. Desperate to protect herself, determined to escape her past, Jamie expects to fight hard for her future. What she never expects is to find love.


This is a very impressive novel, never mind being a debut novel. In short, Jamie Gywnmorgan joins the Marines and goes to war. She joins for various reasons, none of which is very explicitly explained. Her mother is dead (actually took me awhile to figure out this person was her mother), some guy did something horrible (we find out what later--nothing is dumped on us), a friend helped her prepare. There's a reference to jail time, but I didn't get that. We see her through basic training and she’s good. Very good. So she gets to go to scout/sniper school. She’s also good at that. So she gets to go to war.

Jamie is an Aud-like character (who is probably also [some other author's character]-like character) and I don't think that was conscious or even unconscious, nor is it a detriment to the story. We just like to think that out there somewhere is someone who can survive, maybe even thrive on stuff that would flatten us. She's bigger than life. Literally, big, strong, smart, able to handle more than just about everyone around her. Which is good, because a lot of bad things happen to her.

I think the blurb is a bit misleading, mainly because this story defies soundbites. The writing is clean and taut, the plot moves along logically and with interest. The characters, both good and evil, feel real and realistic. There are some nice metaphors and themes that run through this. It would probably be best enjoyed with two readings, but that's not a requirement to liking it, just appreciating it more. I feel I might have missed some things.

This is not an easy read—we’re talking jungle warfare after all—but to Hagin’s credit, I didn’t have to look away. Because the POV is so very tight on Jamie, we only know what she knows and she’s not conscious for the worst of it. We’ll wake up with her and find some horrible thing has happened, but we didn’t have to watch it happen. This is good, in my mind. It let me get very close to the horrors of war in a way I probably wouldn’t otherwise.

This story takes place in an indeterminate near future--post-pandemic, whatever that was (I wish there had been more about that). I knew that going in, but if I hadn't, I might have had trouble getting into the story. There is a lot that is familiar—buses, tents—this isn’t far off science fiction. This could be in the next decade or two. The gadgets were cool, the jargon understandable. She did a great job of explaining things along the way that were not info dumps. I'm just not sure why it needed to be in the future. It wasn't that important, it seemed.

I did have a rather serious WTF moment near the end. Something happens that I just found too weird. And a character appears who seems to come from nowhere—not that her presence wasn’t believable, but Jamie’s connection (which I had to go back and reread to realize I was putting more into it than was there) to her was weirdly coincidental. But this is so far into the book that it doesn’t take too much away from it.

Mostly what I like is the fearlessness of the writing. I'm not sure how to explain what I mean, but I felt it.

I agree with the review on Lambda Literary, especially this:
The publisher has designated this a romance for reasons passing all understanding.


That is perhaps my biggest problem with the book (and not reflected in my stars because it's not Hagin's fault). Several times I looked at the spine and assured myself that yes, there's an R there, for Romance. This is not a romance, especially not a Romance. It breaks most of Radclyffe's formula rules for Romance. I just don't understand why it's there. They have other imprints they could put it under. I complain because I think women might buy this expecting a Romance. But it's not. It's a war story. It's a gritty, gruesome war story. It's also speculative fiction because it takes place in the future. Just perplexing.

That said, I'm glad it got published! :-)
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ElaineB
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