Bad Gods by Gaie Sebold
First Review of the New Year!
And I have to say that this is one that enjoyed immensely. I had never heard of this book previously and was utterly goo goo eyed about the cover. I mean who wouldn't fall in love with that cover by Discworld artist Stephen Player.
When I started reading this, I did not realise that this was actually a reprint and rename of the book that had originally been released in 2012 and let me tell you this book is as fresh as a daisy and needs to find a new audience coz it is brilliant.
You can find anything in Scalentine, the city of portals, but you
won’t find a better brothel than the Red Lantern. And its proprietor,
Babylon Steel (ex-mercenary, ex-priestess, ex… lots of things), means to
keep it that way.
But a prurient cult are protesting in the streets, sex workers are disappearing, and Babylon has bills to pay. When the powerful Diplomatic Section hires her – off the books – to find a missing heiress, she has to take the job.
And then her past starts to catch up with her...
All portals lead to Scalentine in Gaie Seabold's Bad Gods, which tells the story of Babylon Steel and her colourful band of outcasts, waifs and strays.
Bad Gods takes place in the city of Scalentine, a city whose residents come from the various portals to other lands that surround it. It's best described as being on an Ankh Morpork level of organised chaos that is home to a varied range of disparate peoples that find themselves thrown together.
In the midst of this is Babylon Steel, owner and Madame of The Red Lantern. A brothel that will serve anyone who has the right cash. There's a fey that will leave a man (woman, lizard or whatever) senseless for at least two weeks with her sex magick. And we'd best not mention the things that Cruel & Unusual get up to in the cellar.
However, in a former life, Babylon Steel was a mercenary. And it is these skills that she must use when she is asked by local 'entrepreneur' and casino owner Darask Fain to find a missing Ikinchli girl and subsequently avert a diplomatic disaster.
On top of that, the local religious extremists 'The Vessels' have targeted The Red Lantern as a Den of Inequity (which the Red Lantern has proudly cultivated for quite a while) and there's a killer on the loose targeting local sex workers. Oh, and Babylon Steel's past might be showing its ugly head as well
When I started this, I thought it was going to be frenetic romp that I didn't really know how it was all going to fit together.
In all honesty, I didn't really know much about this book at all except for the blurb and the fantastic cover by Discworld Artist, Steven Player. Anymore than that was a total surprise. And I have to say that this book was a total surprise.
For one, I never fail to be delighted by a good found family trope. There is just something about it that will draw me in everytime, and Bad Gods has this in spades. The characters of The Red Lantern all fit together perfectly. Each one of them adds their own little bit to the story.
The structure of the book primarily tells its story through the eyes of Babylon Steel, as she becomes embroiled in the various plots that abound in the book. However, running parallel to this is the story of an unknown orphan girl, left in a bag in the steps of an aristocrat's home and subsequently is brought up in the household of the master. When things start getting untenable for her in the her current position (mainly due to the fact that the master's son has designs on her), she ups and offs and ends up as a trainee avatar for the Goddess of War and Sex. It's not until later that we find out the girl's name and the relevance to the story
Initially, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure where this book was going, particularly with the number of storylines and what relevance the parallel tale had and how it would impact on the story. However, they all do converge to make a satisfying conclusion to the book.
The start of the book does an impressive job of world and character building. There were times in the initial parts of the story where I became a little confused with the amount of characters and the intricate structure of Scalentine itself, which Gaie Seabold cleverly interwines the mystery of the missing girl and uses it as an opportunity for Babylon Steel to show us around the city and navigate its variety of districts and inhabitants. And whilst sometimes it was a bit of hard work I did manage to get past. Furthermore, I found the pacing a little off, particularly in the initial act of the book. It settles down really well and finds its feet in the second half of the book when the stories combine into one cohesive plot.
As you can imagine, there is a good deal of spiciness in the book and Gaie Seabold doesn't shy away from putting a number of sex scenes in the story, with both human and non human characters. However, this is a book about sex workers, so there are going to be some.
Babylon Steel herself is a really good character. She is moralistic, protective and a good female lead who doesn't take any kind of shit from her male counterparts. In addition to that, the other characters all make a good foundation for the story and add to it, particularly the occupants of the red lantern.
Bad Gods is a good introduction to the world of Babylon Steel that makes me want to read more of her adventures and carry on with the series.