If you like your fantasy novels tongue-in-cheek, you will enjoy Goddess by Mistake, the debut novel by an Oklahoma high school teacher with a vivid imagination, a wicked sense of humor and a definite lack of idealism about her profession.
Our heroine Shannon Parker, not coincidentally also an Oklahoma high school teacher, is driving down the road in her Mustang, eagerly anticipating summer vacation when she finds herself compelled to stop and buy an antique vase depicting a woman who looks almost exactly like her. Before you can say, “Don’t do it!” the vase has sucked Shannon into a parallel universe known as Partholon, sort of a cross between 18th century Scotland and ancient Greece.
Shannon learns that she has switched places with Rhiannon, the High Priestess of Epona, who caught a glimpse of Shannon’s world and engineered the swap. Rhiannon may have been a powerful Goddess, but she was also a very naughty girl, selfish and promiscuous. Poor Shannon has a lot to cope with - her guards leer at her knowingly, her subjects expect her to conduct bare-breasted blessing rituals, and worst of all, she’s betrothed to the head of a nearby clan who just happens to be a shape-shifting centaur. Could things possibly get any worse? Well, yes, they could, as an ancient race of evil creatures starts to make a comeback and the people look to Shannon for solutions.
Fortunately, Shannon is not totally without resources. Her maid, Alanna, knows that her mistress is not who she appears to be, and she offers plenty of wise advice. Shannon’s betrothed turns out to be a sexy guy, if you’re into both men and horses. And all of those years teaching classic poems and other literature to ungrateful teenagers finally pay off when Shannon is called upon to deliver stirring benedictions and fireside stories. Eventually, Shannon starts to find the Goddess within herself. Maybe she really is the Chosen of Epona after all.
Shannon’s breezy first-person narrative is full of wisecracks but is also occasionally tender as she falls in love with her very unusual new husband. You have to appreciate a woman whose fantasies feature such diverse objects as John Wayne and Batman. Shannon quickly discovers the injustices perpetrated by the real Rhiannon, and she admirably tries to correct them while trying to keep the switch a secret. She may be a fish out of water, but she’s a teacher, damn it, and she knows how to think on her feet. Except when she indulges in a little too much red wine, her favorite, which of course is always available on demand to a Goddess.
Unfortunately, the first person narrative prevents the reader from getting a full picture of the other characters, including the handsome, caring centaur who convinces Shannon he was born to love her. He’s a dreamboat all right, but he never comes fully alive. Part of the problem is his name, ClanFintan, which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue with the ease of, say, Jamie Fraser. Every time I encountered the name, it jolted me out of the story as I struggled to find a good way to pronounce it.
When the really nasty bad guys make an appearance, the book’s body count starts to rise alarmingly and readers should be warned to expect several gruesomely violent scenes. Couple that with the unusual love story between Shannon and her shape-shifting hubby who’s half man and half horse, and you have quite an exciting adventure.
P.C. Cast’s writing is enjoyable but uneven and could have benefited from more careful editing. Still, for a first novel and a small publishing company, Goddess by Mistake is a very pleasant surprise. A planned sequel, Goddess by Choice, could be the story of how Rhiannon copes with Shannon’s modern world, and should provide some very engaging material. I definitely will watch for its release and hope that the author goes on to even bigger and better things.