Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.
You know those moments when you suddenly realize how insufferably old and decrepit you are? I started writing this paragraph with “You remember Louis Black’s routine about candy corn?” Anyway, in the ancient times there was a comedian, and he asked the question about candy corn that no one else dared: why do we keep doing this to ourselves? I think of that every time I open a new “Turns out I’m a demon princess” novel. I keep expecting to find the one piece of candy corn that managed to escape the factory before the flavor-extractors and wax-injectors could do their filthy, Godless work. But alas, I just keep shoveling disappointing orange plastic into my gullet over and over again. And then there’s licorice, a favorite among enthusiasts who do not tire of telling me that I just haven’t tried the right licorice, and all I need is to wrap my gums around this weird pirate-themed candy from Groningen or something. So I do. And the result is always the same. Infamy: The Godling Saga, the first book in a series by Mohamed Omar, is like that salty Dutch nonsense that some people can’t get enough of.
“The supernatural world at one point wasn’t so secret. You know, when the time of man used to worship gods and the like, but with time, science came to be what we all feared and hated.”
This book starts with a prologue, and I hate it. You may think “Oh, quelle surprise! Hey everybody, drop what you’re doing; Madeline doesn’t like a prologue!” But this one is such a classic example of the flash forward archetype that I wish it had come out in time for my foaming rant about prologues in general. Our hero Malik starts the prologue giving the “tears in the rain” speech if Rutger Hauer was into My Chemical Romance and LiveJournal (I already said I was old, leave me alone), and then chapter 1 picks up with a happy family breakfast. It’s like the prologues are taunting me in real life now, and not just in my nightmares. We get a quick overview of the Blackwood family, including Malik, the skateboarding rascal, his sister Girl, and his parents. Mom writes African literature, while Dad drags the family all over the world to study ancient artifacts, which is apparently a job. It’s almost Halloween, and the four of them have just moved to Portland, nestled firmly in a part of the country known for three things: rain, hypocritically car-oriented development, and YA novels about comic book monsters, so we can see where this story is going.
At school Malik runs into friendly Jayden, hot girl Bianca, an emergency backup Bianca named Maya, and jock Nico. Thisis one of those high schools where the grown ups are thin on the ground, and thoughtfully stay out of the way of teenagers’ lives, especially when it comes to bullying. Actually, the whole town seems to operate on that principle. After school, Mom and Dad are having some mystery fight, so Mailk decides to go for a jog through the scary woods that are straight out of those nosleep stories called “Everyone in our town knows not to enter the dog park after dark and now I wish I hadn’t.” It’s literally called the Crimson Forest. As is tradition, a group of high school bullies spot Malik and decide to chase him through the woods with knives so they can stab him to death, the little scamps. But this is when things get interesting. A mysterious force overcomes Malik, saving his life and filling him with a power he does not understand. The jocks are now revealed to be hideous demons, all gnashing teeth and claws. A werewolf guardian arrives to help, and Malik joins the fight. He kills one demon, causing the rest to flee, but not before his protector is mortally wounded. The last words of the dying guardian are “find the wizard.”
“The ghost, for his part, had an arm that belonged to the demon, its blood dripping on the floor with a dark red pool emerging.”
If that sounds awesome, that’s because it is. At least in concept. I love a good kitchen sink fight scene. The more it sounds like it’s being improvised by a blood thirsty ten year old the better. Infamy goes on to develop this core idea of “everything, but at once” with councils and covenants of various demons and monsters, fragile ceasefires in ancient wars, hidden traitors close to home, and a demon prince possession. There is a genie-spirit-thing in Malik’s head, whom he immediately tries to free, and it’s like “Oh, no one’s ever tried to free me before!” Literally. Everything. But at once. Without spoiling too much, I have to mention that this part of Portland is some kind of sanctuary zone, and when demons try to pick a fight, the entire student body of the high school turn out to be various Universal Studios monsters and join the rumble. It’s like West Side Story if they were literal sharks (and literal jets? That one doesn’t fit as well). This is the first part of a trilogy, so eventually it comes to light that this whole thing might be bigger than Portland, and that maybe Malik and Bianca can’t date quite yet so they can have an Empire Strikes Back kiss, but less rapey.
Most of the book oscillates back and forth between boring exposition about how many different clans of were-marmot there are and crises that need to be solved with immediate punching. The fights usually feel unearned, like they’re just happening because we need an action beat. There’s a story in there somewhere, but there’s no flow. OK, this is going to be the pot calling the kettle literally a pot given how my own writing reads like the aftermath of two cats playing DDR on a keyboard, but Omar needed to hire an editor. He clearly understood the need to bring in outside talent, because he hired a great cover artist. Seriously, you can’t not love this cover, don’t even try. Illustrator Richard Sashigane is like Jean Valjean carrying Marius through the Parisian sewers on his giant Chad shoulders, turning this book from something that could be overlooked into something that commands the attention of potential readers. But the phrasing is clunky, the sentences over-conjuncted, and the dialogue sounds like it was all spoken by the same person. If Team Omar had more nerds, it would be unstoppable. Nevertheless, this is a book that will satisfy a hunger for monstery demon high school dramas. If you’re trawling Amazon for anything that has teen werewolves, this is your jam. Infamy: The Godling Saga is seven dollars on Kindle, which isn’t a bad price given its hefty girth.
Much like candy corn, Madeline’s opinions continue to disappoint.Tweet