The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood is the first book in a Young Adult Urban Fantasy series, and is the third series that Underwood currently has on the go. It's a reasonably enjoyable read for the most part, but after the high standards set by Geekomancy and Shield & Crocus, The Younger Gods feels like a step backwards rather than forwards. That said, it provides a solid foundation for what might become a very good YA series.
The story follows Jacob Green, a young boy raised by a cult whose family has a rather villainous reputation for ritual murder, demon summoning, and other dark arts. After being betrayed by his family, Jacob decides to run away and live in New York City in an attempt to broaden his understanding of the world, but his family are not happy about that decision and have dispatched Jacob's sister to return Jacob to the fold. Bringing Jacob back into the fold is not the only reason his sister is in New York City; the city has all the ingredients needed to start a Lovecraftian-style apocalypse. It is up to Jacob to overcome the fear associated with his family name and bring together a collection of magic-capable people (and ghosts) to defend the city and stop the apocalypse.
Underwood is a big ideas guy with an impressive knowledge of many types of mythos. The Younger Gods is Underwood's playground where he mashes up aspects of many different types of mythos (Christianity, Lovecraft, etc.) to create something entirely unique and very fascinating. The world he has crafted is one that I want to read many stories in, because there are so many cool directions Underwood could take any story in. It also stands up well to a critical eye, and I think you would struggle to find inconsistencies or exploits in this world. Underwood has a great eye for detail.
While I want to read many stories in this world, I'm not sure I want to read this story. There is nothing bad about the story - it has a tight plot that progresses at a good pace, and quirky well constructed characters that keep the story moving forward - I just couldn't connect with the story enough to care about it. When you strip down the quirks and the cool world building, you are left with a stock standard story that anyone familiar with YA fantasy fiction will have read before. I think your enjoyment of the story will hinge entirely on whether or not you can connect with Jacob, the awkward guy who has never learnt any social skills because he was raised by a cult away from society. In my opinion, Jacob's personality is just too similar to Brandon Sanderson's YA protagonists David (from Steelheart) and Joel (from The Rithmatist) - awkward characters who have quirks just for the sake of having quirks.
For me, The Younger Gods is frustrating because I really wanted to like it. It does so much right, and yet I couldn't maintain more than a passing interest in the plot or the characters. This shouldn't put you off reading Underwood, because Geekomancy and Shield & Crocus are awesome books, and I am confident Underwood will knock the second book in this series out of the park. If you are new to Young Adult Urban Fantasy, you will probably get a great deal of enjoyment from this book, but if you are well read in the genre, I think you will find it a little disappointing.
Review by Ryan Lawler
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