Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Alexandra Bracken’s Young Adult novel Lore, followed by an interview with the author.
Every seven years, the Agon begins. As punishment for a past rebellion, nine Greek gods are forced to walk the earth as mortals, hunted by the descendants of ancient bloodlines, all eager to kill a god and seize their divine power and immortality. Long ago, Lore Perseous fled that brutal world in the wake of her family’s sadistic murder by a rival line, turning her back on the hunt’s promises of eternal glory. For years she’s pushed away any thought of revenge against the man–now a god–responsible for their deaths.
Yet as the next hunt dawns over New York City, two participants seek out her help: Castor, a childhood friend of Lore believed long dead, and a gravely wounded Athena, among the last of the original gods.
The goddess offers an alliance against their mutual enemy and, at last, a way for Lore to leave the Agon behind forever. But Lore’s decision to bind her fate to Athena’s and rejoin the hunt will come at a deadly cost–and still may not be enough to stop the rise of a new god with the power to bring humanity to its knees.
My review of Lore
Lore is an imaginative and action-packed take on Greek mythology retellings, with a unique urban fantasy spin and a complex and compelling main character at its helm. You don’t need to have prior knowledge of the Greek myths to understand the story, because the author does an amazing job at establishing the mythological influences that serve as the foundations of our characters’ world. However, for those of you who are in fact quite familiar with Greek mythology, there are plenty of references and Easter eggs scattered throughout the book that you will definitely enjoy.
In this story, humans and gods are pitted against each other in a struggle for power and survival, a little à la Battle Royale/Hunger Games, and I thought that this was both an interesting way of incorporating mythological elements in an urban fantasy setting, while also offering a clever callback to the themes of quests and glory that are so prevalent in the actual original myths.
We also follow the journey of Lore, our titular main character, as she navigates the various dangers of her violent world, while also struggling with inner battles of her own that result from traumatic events from her past. Although she’s been through a lot, Lore keeps going, and while she has numerous flaws and does make mistakes, she also strives to stay true to who she is and her duties. Lore is a fascinating character and her journey of growth was one of my favorite aspects of the book.
In terms of the relationships, I really liked the interactions between Lore and her group of friends. I’m not going to say too much about the side characters to avoid spoilers, but I loved how each character’s personality was brought to life in the book. The book also features a ‘childhood friends to lovers’ romance, which I thought was executed nicely in a way that does not take away from the main plot while also adding some depth to the relationship dynamic between Lore and her love interest.
Overall, Lore is an interesting urban fantasy novel that fans of the genre will definitely enjoy, with an action-packed story, a fascinating main character, a unique take on Greek myths retellings, and a world rich in both danger and supernatural intrigue.
Interview with Alexandra Bracken
QaS: In the world of Lore, every seven years, the descendants of ancient bloodlines take part in the Agon, whereby nine gods are made mortal, and during which the members of these families have a chance of claiming the powers and immortality of these gods by hunting them down and killing them. What was your inspiration for the Agon?
AB: As a writer, I keep a running list of “wishlist” ideas, and the Agon was really the result of two of those wishlist items colliding with one another!
I’d been longing to write a story that used Greek mythology for so, so long, but none of my ideas ever felt fresh enough to me, and there wasn’t an obvious and natural way to set them in our modern world, which is what I really wanted to do. At the same time, I’d been hoping to challenge myself to write a story that used the framework of some kind of competition or even a race. I’m not sure why it took me so long to see how those two could connect—hunts and athletic competitions played important roles in Ancient Greek cultures and featured strongly in the myths. Given that both are still very much a part of our world, I knew it would be really interesting to explore how such an ancient version of a hunt would fit into an incredibly modern city.
The other main inspiration for it was how perfectly cruel so many godly punishments were in the myths. One good (AKA horrifying) example of this is the story of Actaeon, who was a hunter who kept a large pack of hunting dogs. One version of the story goes that he came upon Artemis bathing, and she warned him that if he spoke again, she would turn him into a stag. Well, he spoke, was transformed into a stag, and was then torn apart by his own dogs (ouch!)—the hunter became the hunted. Similarly, the gods of the Agon were willing to sacrifice millions of humans in a bid to keep their power and prominence, so it felt right somehow to have Zeus then curse them to experience a taste of that powerlessness and mortality.
QaS: Killing one of the nine gods during an Agon allows a hunter to gain their power and immortality. If you could pick the powers of one of those nine gods, which one would you like to have?
AB: Oh, wow! You know, I haven’t really thought about this, mostly because taking one of the gods’ powers in the story comes with such terrible strings attached. I’m going to go with Apollo’s powers, though there are times Aphrodite’s power of persuasion would be reaaally useful!
QaS: Of all the gods featured in the book, including both the original gods and the new ones, who were your favorites to write about?
AB: Definitely Athena and Artemis. Athena was always my favorite of the gods as a kid nerding out with her book of Greek myths, but my understanding of her has evolved a lot as I’ve gotten older, and that was one of the things I wanted to explore within the story. Artemis was just fun to write in this—I wanted at least one of the original gods to have regressed to their absolute essence in the story, and Artemis, the huntress herself, has gone a bit feral in this.
QaS: How different was your creative process for creating the new gods, such as Wrath and Heartkeeper, compared to reimagining the original gods like Athena, Artemis, etc?
AB: It actually wasn’t too different, if only because I wanted to reinforce how corrupting power can truly be and needed to use both the old gods and the new to show it. One thing I always kept in mind as I was writing was that the new gods had at least experienced humanity in their mortal lives, which would obviously impact their choices and priorities as gods. But while the original gods experience human emotions like jealousy, anger, and pettiness, they are not human, and it’s a fatal mistake to forget that.
QaS: One of the ideologies of the bloodlines is the concept of kleos, which is the idea of achieving ultimate glory through battle or by becoming a legend. It is the driving force behind the bloodlines’ society and is also what pretty much sets a young Lore on her own personal journey, with her declaring as a child that her name “will be legend”. How did you come about the creation of the bloodlines’ society, and what inspired you to use the concept of kleos as such a significant driving force in this society?
AB: Most of my research for Lore centered on reading about the different cultures within Ancient Greece, especially the Spartans, and trying to understand how they structured their world and beliefs. It was important to keep in mind that the stories of Greek mythology were really used to explain the world and justify their rituals and ways of life.
I knew that I wanted the hunter bloodlines to feel that they stood above regular mortals and had been chosen for an extraordinary destiny the way their famous ancestors had. That’s such a seductive and powerful belief–and one they’d be incredibly reluctant to let go of even as centuries passed. And, to take it even a step further, they’d want to maintain the rituals and stories and philosophies that reinforced that. One of the biggest challenges of writing the story was finding little ways to show how they might integrate into a modern setting through, for example, technology, but still refuse to address any of the regressive and problematic aspects of their beliefs.
The concept of kleos is fascinating, isn’t it? Just the idea that glory or renown was something that could be inherited or gained or lost, and that it was something entirely based on other people’s perceptions of you. It really boils down to wanting to do something great in order to be remembered, which is its own kind of immortality. I knew it had to feature in the story because of the warrior upbringing the hunters are given and because kleos was traditionally transferred between fathers and sons. Meaning, of course, that there would be massive tension in Lore’s hunger for it and her society’s refusal to even give her a chance at it. It’s also no accident that Lore is named Lore, and that we used it as the title for the book!
QaS: Another theme of the story, as displayed through the rampant sexism present in the bloodlines’ patriarchal society, is the suppression of women’s rights and voices. This is further explored in the book with discussions on how the stories of women in Greek myths are often twisted to fit a more male-centric narrative, Medusa’s story being one of them. What aspects of these stories drew you to them and how did you weave these elements into the themes explored in Lore?
AB: The sexual violence and treatment of women in Greek mythology have always enraged me, even as a kid discovering the stories for the first time. By an accident of fate, I was developing the book in 2017-2018, right around the time when we were finally having more extensive cultural conversations surrounding the Me Too movement, and it absolutely came to inform the emotional core of the story.
I started thinking more seriously about how I had both consciously and unconsciously modified my behavior and held myself back to navigate a world that’s all too quick to punish women for their ambition or anger. I poured those feelings into the story. I also wanted to explore how damaging and suppressive patriarchal societies are for those who are denied power and privilege within them and touch on what you’ve mentioned—that with history and storytelling, you constantly have to question who is telling it and why. Ancient Greece’s ideals are at the root of Western culture, and many of the issues raised in the book are still depressingly relevant today.
QaS: The book is filled with cool nods and references to various stories in Greek mythology and lore. So for our final question, what are some of your favorite Greek myths?
AB: I’ve always loved the tales of journeys and adventures like the Odyssey, especially since we get to see more interaction between the gods and mortals. The story of Theseus in the labyrinth (shout-out to Ariadne, the real MVP) has always been a favorite of mine–so dark and tense! And of all of the romances in Greek mythology–most of them kind of yikes or ill-fated–I’ve always loved the story of Eros and Psyche.
About the author
Alexandra Bracken was born in Phoenix, Arizona. The daughter of a Star Wars collector, she grew up going to an endless string of Star Wars conventions and toy fairs, which helped spark her imagination and a deep love of reading. After graduating high school, she attended The College of William & Mary in Virginia, where she double majored in English and History. She sold her first book, Brightly Woven, as a senior in college, and later moved to New York City to work in children’s book publishing, first as an editorial assistant, then in marketing. After six years, she took the plunge and decided to write full time. She now lives in Arizona with her tiny pup, Tennyson, in a house that’s constantly overflowing with books. Alex is a #1 New York Times bestselling and USA TODAY bestselling author. Her work is available across the world in over 15 languages.
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