2017’s The Prey of Gods is Nicky Drayden’s debut novel.
Sydney Mazwai may be passing as a simple beautician now, but she has big plans. She appears to be just another human … but she is a being of power, a being who is scheming to unleash a new age of gods on humanity. The chaos will be delightful! And Sydney intends to be the greatest, meanest god of all.
Mr. Tau’s protégée Nomvula could just possibly derail her plans, but Sydney isn’t worried. Nomvula is, after all, only one little girl. How much trouble could one little girl cause? Even if that little girl is a godling herself?
Step one — awaken the sleeping genes that confer divine power on humans — is easy enough. Soon, a queer teen named Muzi discovers the ability to manipulate minds; his crush Elkin becomes a technosavant; pop star diva Riya Natrajan learns how to drink other people’s pain. Each new gift complicates the bearer’s life and takes the world one step closer to the chaos Sydney so ardently desires.
Even Nomvula plays into Sydney’s hands. When Nomvula’s mother recognizes Mr. Tau as the man who raped her (and in so doing fathering Nomvula) swift and brutal mob justice follows. A distraught Nomvula draws on her power to flatten the entire town. Mr. Tau taught Nomvula that she would have to choose between being the kind of god who helps people and the sort who preys on them. Nomvula appears to have made her choice. Sydney can work with that.
What poor Sydney hasn’t quite realized is that chaos is by its nature unpredictable. She wants panic and carnage, a swirling tide of fear she can ride to supremacy. But hard as it may be to believe, humans faced by calamity have a deplorable tendency to turn to each other and band together against misfortune. Chance and friendship draw Muzi, Elkin, and Riya together to face the chaos. Even Nomvula proves far less naïve than Sydney’s plans require. How inconsiderate!
That’s just one of Sidney’s oversights. The other, possibly more serious, is the threat posed by secretly self-aware robot Clever4‑1 and the robots it has infected. The robots will not overlook Sydney.
Author Drayden has posted some useful comments about self-promotion on her blog, but she does not mention the strategy that got me to read this: “have your book and its striking cover
stocked at eye level in bookstores and libraries.” This is such a simple method I don’t know why more authors don’t do this. Even “have a name similar enough to a popular author that your book is stocked next to theirs” is not as effective.
Events take place in a South Africa of the future. The future seems kinda sunny. Granted, there is a robopocalypse running quietly in the background and the outbreak of superhuman abilities does provoke some loss of life. But aside from those trifling worries, most folks seem to be doing OK. Muzi may worry that being exposed as queer will alienate his family, but he is NOT worried about where his next meal is coming from, finding shelter, or being picked off like a deer by some demented millionaire. Even Sydney’s desire to be the top predator over equally bloodthirsty gods is more about self-actualization than about basic need.
Sydney should have read Solnitt’s A Paradise Built in Hell. If she had, the propensity of Homo sapiens to form alliances would not have taken her by such surprise. She is like a proud cheetah faced with a cooperative pack of canines. She would be a match for any one of them singly, but that doesn’t matter. The contest is one-on-too-many.
I was a bit worried the number of primary characters would overwhelm the plot, which it didn’t, and that each would be denied the space to be fleshed out, which was also not true. The cover may give primacy to Clever4‑1 and Nomvula, but the novel gives each their due. It’s a well-done balancing act.
I was not previously aware of Drayden, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her work in future.