The Prey of Gods
by Nicky Drayden
Cover Artist: Brenoch Adams
Review by Katie Carmien
Harper Voyager Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062493033
Date: 13 June 2017 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
In a futuristic Port Elizabeth, South Africa, five lives are about to converge into something extraordinary. Pop star Riya Natrajan wants her new show to go off without a hitch and her drug dealer boyfriend to maybe stick around overnight once in a while. Teenage Muzi wants to get through his upcoming adulthood ceremony without embarrassing himself and figure out his crush on his best friend. Little Namvula just wants to get through her days without the neighborhood girls bullying her again. Politician Stoker wants to solve the dik-dik problem, start setting up a campaign for premier, and maybe snag a spot singing backup for Riya as alter-ego Felicity Lyon. And Sydney--well, Sydney wants what she deserves. When a new hallucinogenic drug hits the streets, the personal robots everybody depends on start developing free will, and Sydney's lethal plot swings into motion, the future of Port Elizabeth--and quite possibly the entire world--is in their hands.
This novel really shines in its worldbuilding, which Drayden builds through the smallest details, like the dik-dik infestation in Port Elizabeth--and, by extension, the overworked Stoker--is stuck with. It might not be a city one could visit today, but it feels like a city one could visit tomorrow, magic and personal robots, and all. Part of what gives rise to this impression, apart from Drayden's meticulous construction of the environment, is the fact that more than one thing is happening at once--not just Sydney's plot but also the incipient robot revolution, and so on. Even when things may be slow for one character, tension is building in the background.
Drayden is also a master at crafting flawed, fully realized, incredibly relatable characters, like Riya, who might be self-absorbed in the extreme, but is also capable of incredible kindness and vulnerability. Stoker/Felicity is another standout, torn between her responsibilities and her need to own her identity, competent and driven but cowed by her mother. Even Sydney, who is terrifying once she really gets going, has a relatable core--not that this makes her any less frightening as a villain. She's a perfect balance of understandable motivations and incredibly awful goals.
Since there are so many viewpoints, it's inevitable that the reader will have a favorite (mine is Riya). All the viewpoints are pretty engaging, but while hopping between characters sometimes creates good cliffhangers, other times I found that it sapped the story's momentum somewhat, since what I really wanted was to go back to Riya (or, in some cases, Stoker/Felicity) and see what was going on, which prevented me from engaging fully with the next viewpoint. I wanted the book to be longer so that more time could be spent on each story thread before switching to another one.
Drayden's debut is far more hit than miss, however. It's gripping, exciting, and fresh, an original new voice with plenty to offer for anyone who loves speculative fiction, interesting characters, and a breakneck plot.