Sunday 27 June 2010

Review: Dark Goddess by Sarwat Chadda

Billi SanGreal is a Knight Templar and has thrown herself utterly into their brutal regime, shutting herself off from everyone and everything. But when Billi finds herself at the heart of a savage werewolf attack, she knows their target – a young girl – must be rescued at all costs. For this is no ordinary girl. Vasalisa is an avatar with an uncontrollable force within – and it’s not just the werewolves who want her.The Dark Goddess wants to sacrifice Vasalisa and use her powers to unleash unimaginable catastrophes and devastation. Can Billi protect Vasalisa from the ancient goddess – and at the same time stop her from destroying the world?

Back in April I posted a review of Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda, the first book in his series about Billi SanGreal, a teenager living in modern day London but part of an ancient war between good and evil as a Templar Knight in training. I loved Devil's Kiss and its kick-ass heroine and I have been looking forward to reading the sequel ever since; but would Mr Chadda be able to produce a second book worthy of the first? The answer is a resounding yes - I enjoyed every moment of this, and if I hadn't have been fighting a cold over the last few days I am sure I would have read it in one sitting.

As with Devil's Kiss Mr Chadda does not waste time easing us into his story; he kicks it off with Billi slap bang in the middle of another terrifying scene, this time up against a couple of werewolves. How we love werewolves at The Book Zone - none of your glamorous vampires with smouldering eyes and rakish good looks for us boys, thank you! We much prefer the animal ferocity of the wolfman. But it is here that Mr Chadda delivers his first knock-out surprise - his werewolves belong to an all-female pack known as the Polenitsy, who roam the forests of Russia and worship the dark goddess of the book's title, the terrifying Baba Yaga. But don't go thinking that because they are female they are any less deadly than your sterotypical male werewolf - these creatures are every bit as ruthless and violent, and it is not just their bite that can turn someone into one of their kind either, their claws are just as deadly.

One of the things I love the most about Mr Chadda's stories is the effort he obviously puts into research, and then the personal spin he twists into this to create his own plot elements. The Polenitsy appear in Russian legends as formidable warrior women - the Chadda twist makes them werewolves. The Bogatyr appear in Russain folk epics as protectors of the realm - twisted around Chadda-style and they become the Russian equivalent of Billi's Templar Knights, Christian warriors fighting against evil for even longer than the Knights themselves. And then there is Tunguska - site of a devastating meteor strike more than a century ago, and now....... no, that would be giving too much away. It takes an inventive mind to pick these elements out of hours and hours of research and then mould them into a story like Dark Goddess, and yet Sarwat Chadda manages to do this seamlessly.

Having just used that word, I fear that I have no choice but to use it again, but this time to describe Mr Chadda's plotting, for there is no better word to describe it than seamless. Devil's Kiss, whilst being a superb debut novel for the author, had a fairly linear plot with only a handful of twists throughout. Dark Goddess is a far more complicated work, and is even better for it. Few of the new characters are what they initially seem, what is perceived as evil at first may surpise you later in the book, and vile actions such as the slaughter of innocents are sometimes reasoned and believed to be for the greater good by their perpetrators. This book really will keep you guessing until the end, but this end is ultimately very satisfying in that the various twisting plot threads are neatly brought together and resolved with a skill usually seen in far more experienced authors than Mr Chadda.

At the end of my review of Devil's Kiss I stated that "Devil's Kiss finishes on a particularly harrowing note for Billi and I am intrigued to find out where the story will take her next as she "throws herself into the brutal regime of Templar duties with utter abandon"." Without giving too much away, that book finished with Billi being hurt both emotionally and physically, and we are reminded of these moments throughout Dark Goddess (you really must read these books in the correct sequence in order to get the most out of them). Mr Chadda uses this sequel to really develop Billi's character even further, partly through her slightly warmer relationship with her father, but more through her interaction with Vasilisa, a small girl that Baba Yaga wants to devour in order to gain her incredible powers, and then through Billi's growing relationship with Ivan Alexeivich Romanov, Bogatyr and descendent of the princess Anastasia Romanov (yet another Chadda twist-on-fact). Ivan is another troubled teenager who has had to confront and fight evil on an almost daily basis, and in many ways is a male version of our Billi, and Sarwat Chadda skilfully develops their inital mistrust of each other into a relationship where they will risk their lives for each other (ok... so they kiss as well, but boys, it really is only a very small element of the story.... there's none of this Twilight rubbish from Mr Chadda).

It is difficult to define exactly which genre this book belongs to as there are so many competing elements. It is a fantastic action story, with the fight scenes even better than those in Devil's Kiss. But there are also moments of extreme horror - some of the werewolf attacks are very ferocious, and there is one scene where Billi is shown a lorry container full of bodies which is particularly gruesome. Action? Adventure? Horror? One thing it isn't is a Romance!!!

On the evidence of first Devil's Kiss and now Dark Goddess I believe that Sarwat Chadda is here to stay and although I am sure it is some way off I can't wait to find out what he has in store for Billi in the future. Sarwat is embarking on a blog tour in this coming week and he has written a great article for The Book Zone which will go live on Friday 2nd July. As part of his tour he is being interviewed on at least one blog so maybe we will find out a few hints about the next instalment in Billi's saga in one of those - head on over to Sarwat's website or his blog to find out more details about this tour.

Dark Goddess is published by Puffin and is due to be released on 1st July, although I notice that Amazon already have copies in stock. My thanks go to the generous people at Puffin for sending me a copy of this book.


  1. I seem to remember you convincing me with your review of Devil's Kiss, and now with this one I really should get around to picking up his books!

  2. These sound brilliant! Thanks for the reviews - I am hoping to read them very soon.

    Meanwhile, I have added your blog to my blogroll over at Reclusive Muse, since some of my books appeal to boys.