Released: July 1st, 2010
Grade rating: A-
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. Vasilisa is an avatar with an uncontrollable force within – and it’s not just the werewolves who want her. The Dark Goddess wants to sacrifice Vasilisa and use her powers to unleash unimaginable catastrophes and devastation. Can Billi protect Vasilisa from the ancient goddess – and at the same time stop her from destroying the world?
I've been a bit of a Sarwat Chadda fan ever since I read Devil's Kiss about a year ago, and immediately fell in love with Billi SanGreal and the Knights Templar. The whole concept of the Knights Templar fascinates me, and gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a kick-ass teenage warrior.
Dark Goddess picks up a few months after the events of Devil's Kiss, and centres around a powerful little girl, a group of male Bogatyr warriors, the horrible goddess Baba Yaga and a fierce pack of female Russian Polenitsy werewolves. The action is pretty much non-stop, with intense battles hiding around every corner. True to her calling, Billi steps up and deals with whatever the world throws at her, and is prepared to sacrifice even those closest to her for the greater good.
Dark Goddess is rooted in Russian lore and mythology, which is something I knew nothing about before reading it. I'm so impressed with Chadda's research and attention to detail, as it made the story all the more realistic. Including the famous Romanov family was a cool move, because who doesn't love learning about a Russian Royal Family? Tsarevich Ivan Alexeivich Romanov is hot stuff and, along with Billi, is a bright shining light in this book. I think I'm actually a little bit in love with him, which, y'know, isn't good 'cause he's not real. Oh well, one more fictional boy to add to my wish list....
What could have been improved? Not a lot, really. Maybe a few less long Russian names to remember, and a quicker pace in the odd chapter, but that's about it. Oh, and I wouldn't have said no to a few more vampire attacks (or ghuls, as they're known). So far Chadda has written about angels, vampires, werewolves, goddesses... there really is something for everyone in this series.
As it is, this latest Templar mission is addictive on the hard-to-put-down side of things, and Buffy fans should lap it up. Another bonus is that it can be read as a standalone novel, with all references to Devil's Kiss explained in a way that makes this possible (one spoiler is included, though you'd probably figure it out quite early on in the first book anyway). I'm really hoping there will be another book in this series, though I don't know where that stands at the moment. Fingers crossed and, as Billi would say, Deus vult.
Guest post: Sarwat Chadda on Research
DARK GODDESS is a story I’ve been planning since 1994, when I first came across stories of an ancient Russian witch. The story came out of my love of history, mythology, Russian fairytales and the desire to give my two daughters a heroine that kicked ass EXTREMELY HARD!
I spent about a year of solid research, as well as utilizing all the background knowledge I’d acquired over the years, to write this book (and is probably why the publication date got moved back!). Research adds depth to your story. You don’t see it because you’re writing a tale, not a thesis, but it’s there, making the roots of what you’re saying deeper and stronger.
London is my home city so it was a given that Billi’s first adventure, DEVIL’S KISS, would be here. The city has close links with the Templars, the Temple Church still stands here, almost 900 years after it was built. It was very easy to imagine the order still at work, in the city’s old ancient alleyways. My background was in construction and I’ve worked on a lot of old buildings and, while I did projects for the Ministry of Defence, secret ones too.
I love cities. London’s been occupied from Roman times and a lot of the streets still follow the original routes laid down by the Romans. There’s layer after layer of stories and for a writer it gives you incredibly fertile ground. We’ve got the Templars, The Great Fire, Black Death and Jack the Ripper. The old Tower of London was a place of beheadings and the foulest of murders. The city is filled with ghosts.
I couldn’t ask for a better setting to kick off the series.
DARK GODDESS moves the action to Russia. This presented a brand new challenge and a whole lot of opportunities. The biggest challenge was to make my writing of Moscow and Russia generally as live and lived in as my writing of London. Not easy. The only way to get that authenticity was to go out there and walk the streets, visit the buildings and look into the history. One of the things I’m most pleased with is that by seeing Moscow for myself, a whole new version of the story was created. But I had a lot of help to do it. The city is huge and I’d have been totally lost trying to work it out myself. A guy called Alan Steel runs a tour company called Russian Gateway and he really turned the trip around by organizing a guide and detailed itinerary so I saw what I wanted, and also places that I would have missed, but greatly enhanced the entire story. Plus he did all the Russian translations! A lot of the authenticity of the setting is down to his help.
The city is rich with legends and sights and characters, I could have written a trilogy just set in that one city. By moving Billi to Russia I took her out of her comfort zone and you really get her sense of alienation now she’s out of London. The rules are different. The players are different. She can’t fall back on the Templars.
Having established the new setting I continued on my research of Russian mythology. The name that came up again and again was the witch, Baba Yaga. She’s a hideous, mysterious creature, an old pagan goddess that was made into a fairytale witch during the rise of Christianity. She is a cannibal with iron teeth and a belly-full of hate. I wanted her to reclaim her ancient and terrifying divinity. I wanted to get back to the roots of her power and why people should be afraid of her. She is incredibly old, incredibly wise and incredibly evil. I was lucky enough to visit the caves in Dordogne while writing the first scene where we meet Baba Yaga. These caves have paintings and carvings that are 14,000 years old, from the last Ice Age. This, I realised, was when Baba Yaga had first come amongst mankind. Once I had seen her home, I knew so much more about her. There were paintings of long-horned cattle, of small horses, of mammoths. They’re all gone now, but Baba Yaga would have remembered them and when Europe was one vast forest. What must she feel now, seeing the dense clouds of pollution? The smog? The forests gone and replaced by concrete and steel?
Anger? Oh yes. Great anger indeed.
As well as visiting places I read a lot of female-centric mythology. The writer Angela Carter wrote a collection of short stories centred around werewolves. Werewolves are very feminine. The moon is connected to female deities, like Hecate, the queen of witches. The Amazons’ legendary weapon was a lunar axe, and of course the moon cycle is strongly connected to female physiology. Then, in an amazing piece of luck, I discovered the original legends of the Amazons placed them in southern Russia. In an instant I was able to connect them to Baba Yaga. She was the goddess to the Amazons, and she taught her priestesses how to change shape. They were the first werewolves.
Another writer who’s been a huge influence is Clarissa Pinkola Estes. She wrote ‘Women Who Run with Wolves’ and in it she delves into a lot of fairytales and myths, discovering the power of the female figures that, over the centuries, have become passive, sanitized, dependent on men and denied access to their original power. This is something I feel very strongly about. No doubt sparked by having daughters I’m not that impressed by the role of the ‘classic’ female heroine in literature. Sitting around waiting for some guy to sort out their lives. That it all ends happily ever after at the wedding altar. I prefer the old, ancient heroines. Reading Estes and the works of Robert Graves I rediscovered the more fearsome aspects of the old heroines. The cunning of Penelope. The fury of Athene. Blood-thirsty Morrigan. Of Kali who dances on the corpses of the dead and defends the world from evil. Billi is, in her own way, an old-school heroine. Very old school.
They are terrifying and powerful. They are not to be treated lightly. They are beholden to no man. Baba Yaga is one of these dark goddesses, and so is Billi SanGreal.
Sarwat has very kindly offered to give away a signed copy of Dark Goddess to one lucky UK reader. As always, you don't have to follow my blog to enter, but you do have to have a UK mailing address. Fill in the form below to enter!
End date: July 7th, 2010.