Packed full of action featuring an incredibly diverse cast of characters, The Prey of Gods, a debut science fiction novel by Nicky Drayden, has managed to make its way onto my list of favorites for the year. Through at least seven different third-person perspectives, Drayden captures a variety of unique personalities, unbelievable circumstances, and mass destruction as secrets are revealed in South Africa following the appearance of a new hallucinogenic drug.
Imagine a drug that has the power to awaken your mind, revealing your true potential as a descendant of the gods. In the hands of a few, it might be powerful. But in the hands of a large portion of South Africa, the results have the potential to become catastrophic.
Through six different characters, the effects of the drug (aptly named godsend) are shown to be incredibly powerful, yet relatively harmless at first glance. Although it causes severe hallucinations, or so its users believe, it has the power to heal and provide courage. By taking the edge off of reality, it allows those who use it to awaken their true lineage. For Muzi, Elkin, Riya, Rife, and Stoker, the effects awaken a latent power hidden within their genes. Although the population isn’t aware of it, each and every member of society is a descendant of the gods. However, they are unaware of their hidden lineage, as it has been buried deep inside to prevent power struggles, chaos, and jealousy that often times come with overwhelming power.
Tradition and belief are key components within The Prey of Gods. Through incredibly detailed character development and world-building, Drayden’s characters come to life. From Muzi, a queer teenager from a traditional family background that is struggling with his emotions toward his best friend, to Nomvula, a young girl with an abusing and uncaring mother who must live on her own, each and every character has an incredibly unique back story that makes you want to learn more about them. While some are incredibly relatable and lovable, others are absolutely horrendous. Full of malice and dark intent, these characters set you on edge and make you question their every action and motivation. As hidden secrets and personalities shine through, life in South Africa becomes incredibly diverse as a man accepts his true identity as a woman, a robot gains sentience, and a tree comes to life when the world is endangered.
In just under 400 pages, an ungodly amount of things happen in quick succession. Rituals are performed, traditions are explained, secrets are revealed, unique powers unveiled, relationships formed, drugs and viruses run rampant, and all hell breaks loose as hidden and power-hungry gods are unleashed upon South Africa. And, to top it all off, a trip to the afterlife and an epic battle, featuring a gigantic robot are just two of the highlights of Drayden’s debut novel.
Although the action was absolutely incredible and kept me reading late into the night on more than one occasion, the pacing of the novel took away from the overall world-building. In a world full of chaos, it is only natural for one insane event to take place after another, but so many things begin to happen so quickly towards the end of The Prey of Gods that it felt as though something was missing. Although Drayden hits the mark with detail and description where traditions, origin stories, and technology are concerned, her debut novel could have been longer to accommodate the sheer amount of action packed into it. At times, many things are left for the reader to interpret for themselves. While that, in itself, is not a bad thing, I would have loved to learn more about some of the events in the book.
While some events are brushed aside, Drayden does an incredible job with the small details. From creating distinctive and memorable characters, developing a unique tone of voice and thought process for them, to writing chapters that really capture the transition from machine to a sentient being, The Prey of Gods features an immense amount of detail that fans of science fiction will love.
Through the use of godsend and the revelation that gods and goddesses, do, in fact, exist, South Africa becomes a very dangerous place. Full of tradition, wildlife, advanced technology, and incredible secrets, The Prey of Gods is an incredible journey; a roller coaster ride of emotions and events that will set every reader on edge with lightning fast pacing as Drayden weaves an intricate tale that brings each and every character together. Pair that with the possibility of a sequel due to the very open nature of the ending, and I am excited to see what Drayden has in store for the future.