Author: Sarwat Chadda
Genre: YA/Fantasy (Contemporary)
Publisher: Puffin/ Disney (US)
Publication Date: July 1 2010 / October 2010 (US)
Paperback: 384 pages
After the death of her soulmate Kay by her very own sword, Billi SanGreal has thrown herself into the brutal regime of Templar duties with utter abandon. There is no room for feelings any more – her life is now about hunting down the Unholy. But when Billi and another Knight Templar are caught at the heart of a savage werewolf attack, only Billi survives – except for a young girl at the scene who Billi unthinkingly drags away with her as they escape. But Vasalisa is no ordinary girl. She is an avatar with an uncontrollable power – and it’s not only the werewolves who want her. Billi has to flee to the frosty climes of Russia, with a human timebomb who, it seems, could destroy the world . . .
THE DARK GODDESS will take Billi to Russia to rescue Vasalisa, a young girl Billi’s promised to protect. To save her, Billi must defeat the werewolves that serve the witch Baba Yaga – and the Dark Goddess herself.
Baba Yaga is sickened by the destruction and corruption humanity has spread across the natural world. She recognises mankind has become a plague upon the Earth, and her duty is clear: to cleanse the planet and rid it of the pestilence of Man. Billi is sent to stop her, but does she have the right?
Betrayed and alone, Billi faces a final mighty battle in the abandoned ruins of Chernobyl.
Stand alone or series: book two in the Billi Sangreal series
How did I get this book: Bought.
Why did I read this book: I recently attended an event at the book store Foyles, where the author talked his writing, his research and I was sold after that and bought the book on the spot.
Dark Goddess is the sequel to Devil’s Kiss. In the first book, Billi SanGreal becomes the first ever female Knight Templar, following on the footsteps of her father. Her calling is not one that come easy as the life of a Templar is not all ponies and rainbows as evidenced by the sacrifices she has to make, including killing her best friend (and potential love interest) Kay to save the world (vibes of Buffy – season two finale here).
In Dark Goddess, it’s been three months since those events and Billi is still struggling with her feelings and trying to deal with her grief by throwing herself into the fray and shutting her heart out. The book opens with a bang and an excellent fight sequence against a group of werewolves who are after a small girl. Her family is entirely decimated and Billi just about escapes with the child – Vasilisa. Turns out, Vasilisa has the potential to be the next Oracle for the order but her budding powers prove to be exactly what the werewolf pack need to appease their Goddess. When Vasilisa is kidnapped and taken to Russian, the crazy action pacing increases as the Templars must face the werewolves and the Dark Goddess, also known as Baba Yaga or Mother Russia herself and thwart her plan to rid the world of humans. But they have the help of a local religious/military order who is led by a descendant of the Romanovs whose son, Prince Ivan becomes a close ally to Billi but not before some bickering.
First and foremost, something needs to be said about Billi: what an incredible teen character. It is easy to relate to her and to feel for her, from her difficult relationship with her ruthless, removed father to her constant musings about duty. She is strong and a fighter but also vulnerable especially when having to make choices. I find it incredibly compelling that she has to go through the same conflict as before: when the time comes will she kill someone she loves to save the world?
Another fascinating aspect (and something that worried me before I started the book) is how the religious aspect would be played out. The author opted for an interesting twist and basically removed the religious aspects from the Knights Templar by replacing their historical enemies with a new one, the Unholy: werewolves, vampires and other assorted dark creatures. But if the Templars are no longer a religious order per se, religion still plays a role but possibly not how I expected. The Knights do believe in God and hope to be doing his will but that does not necessarily mean that ONE religion is the right one. In fact, Billi’s mother was muslin for example and Billi at one point asks herself:
She could pray in Latin, Greek, English and Arabic. She knew the direction of Mecca and the psalms. Did God really care?
This balance is also applied to the characters and central storyline: most of the former are presented in a grey light and the latter, with Baba Yaga trying to remove humans from the equation is rooted in what we, as a race have brought to our own world. The horror of plot, which is truly terrifying, comes from partly realizing that hey, perhaps the witch has a point.
The Russian setting is unique and it seems to be well-researched (I saw the author speaking about his trip to Russian) including the incorporation of the Baby Yaga myth.
Also extremely vivid and well-paced are the fight sequences with a myriad of different weapons. This is a bloody and dark tale with a dash of romance on the side although Billi’s feelings for Ivan develop perhaps a bit too fast considering both their surroundings and current predicament and her very recent history with Kay.
I really enjoyed Dark Goddess and will definitely be following more of Billi Sangreal’s adventures as a teenage Templar Knight.
The Rottweiler’s head lay in a bush, just off the snow-sprinkled path. One eye was gone, leaving a blood-encrusted socket. Its tongue hung out stupidly from a broken jaw. The body was a few metres further, its chest carved open so the ribs stuck out of the skin like a row of gruesome lollipops.
Billi covered her face with her sleeve. The cold night air was fresh with January frost, but the corpse stank of
spilt intestines. The dog was, had been, brutishly big, but its size had not saved it from being torn apart.
‘Well?’ asked Pelleas as he searched further along the path, scanning the ground with his torch.
They were on the edge of the woods, spiny trees to one side and a low hedge bordering a white-coated field to the other. The dense snow clouds of the day had lifted, leaving the velvet-black sky hazy with starlight and the crescent moon. The sky over London never looked like this – vast and fathomless.
Billi snapped off a twig and used it to bind her long, black hair in a loose bun. She leaned over the corpse,
directing her torch at the wounds. She’d seen the pictures of the other slaughtered victims, but the artificial eye of the lens had made them seem remote, fake even. This was sickeningly real. She poked at the body with a stick and grimaced as semi-congealed blood oozed from the gaping tears. They hadn’t been made with knives – that much was obvious.
They’d been made with claws.
Without touching, Billi spread her hand carefully over the line of the wounds. Five ragged talons had been
dragged through the dog’s guts. Judging by the width of the wounds, the beast was big. ‘Definitely a Loony,’ she said. Pelleas peered over his shoulder. ‘You mean “were-wolf”, of course.’
Additional Thoughts: The author wrote an article about writing Dark Goddess including links to several quite interesting guest posts in other blogs including:
1. Why research trips are always good. Or ‘Sarwat’s excuse to go to Russia’.
2. Why Conan the Barbarian is a 21st Century feminist icon.
3. The baddest of the bad bad-ass heroines through history. Or ‘where Billi SanGreal came from’. 4. Why Pride and Prejudice would have been so much better with elephants.
5. Tragic romance.
6. Supernatural horror.
7. Swordfights. Lots of swordfights.
8. Why your mother should read Dark Goddess.
Verdict: An interesting twist on the Knights Templar’s stories with a compelling female character in Billi and a vivid setting make this book a great read. I really enjoyed it.
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: 8th Grade Super Zero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich