Gods Behaving Badly
by Marie Phillips
(Little, Brown, $23.99, G) ISBN:  978-0-316-06762-1
****
In the twenty-first century, it's hard for the average person to imagine God directly interacting with our lives; people are just too skeptical and self-involved. Imagine being an ancient god in this day in age on the receiving end of all that doubt. That's how the Greek pantheon came to be living on Earth, a large group of them in a rundown house in London, England. Their powers have diminished over the centuries because the humans no longer believe in them, and now, every time they use their power, it cuts into their reserves. The gods live in constant fear that someday soon, the last iota will be gone. And, despite the fact that they are gods and theoretically immortal beings, they don't know what comes next.

Not that this stops the gods - the ones living in London, at east - from zapping people with their power from time to time. Apollo, the god of the sun, for instance, has recently been shunned by a female banker and turned her into a tree. This frustrates his twin sister, Artemis, who manages to enlist their aunt Aphrodite, the goddess of love (and a phone sex operator), to corner Apollo into promising not to use his powers against humans for a decade.

Unfortunately for humans and the world, Aphrodite has other things in mind - she has conned her son Eros (a Christian convert) into shooting Apollo with one of his magic arrows. This would induce Apollo to fall in love with the first woman upon which he sets his eyes. This turns out to be Alice, the new housekeeper for the gods. Apollo is lovestruck when Alice sneaks her friend, Neal - who wants to be her boyfriend and who she would like to be her boyfriend - into a taping of Apollo's "psychic" TV show. Naturally, Apollo dodges in Alice's footsteps as she works around the house. This doesn't make Neal happy, but Alice isn't the type of girl to be distracted by a drop-dead gorgeous television personality. In fact, Alice is fairly stodgy, with a bit of OCD and an extremely strong work ethic. Pretty much like Neal. The two are sweet and fairly naive and not a little dull, and the only thing that really gets a rise out of either one of them is the other. 

So needless to say, Apollo gets a little bent out of shape that Alice's eye can't be turned his way. Then he does the unforgivable: Apollo extinguishes the sun. And, as that violates the promise he made to the river Styx to do no harm, he extinguishes himself as well.

Neal and Alice are left as unlikely - and, in Neal's case, unwilling - saviors of the world. The gods are left to try to reunite and figure out a way to retrieve Apollo, since no god can take over another's powers, and the gods' existence is based on the continued survival of the human race.

Neal and Alice individually descend into the Underworld in the hopes of convincing the river Styx and Hades to help out while Artemis does her best to rally the gods. And for two humans and a number of gods, the time has come to rediscover themselves.

The first chapter of this book was hilarious, and then it dropped off, disappointing the reader because the premise is so fun. However, it picks back up, and once you get comfortable with the writer's dry wit, it's quite the romp. Marie Phillips doesn't make fun of her characters' foibles, she makes them intrinsic to the story. Alice and Neal take some getting used to, but they eventually grow to be endearing, and it's nice to see "normal" characters as opposed to the standard raving beauty or muscle-bound jock. The gods, by far, outshine them, which is as it should be. Between the family quarrels and incestuous relationships, the individual flaws and comical way of dealing with life in modern-day England, the Greek pantheon provides vast entertainment, either because it is a world lacking in faith or in spite of it.

--Sarrah Knight


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