Book Review: Mark of the Goddess
Reviewed by Andrea Marks-Joseph
A teenager determined to protect her family discovers she is goddess-touched and destined to save her village from evil.
Mark of the Goddess is an empowering novella that demonstrates the bravery of teenage girls, the magic within people who have been oppressed, and the strength behind a belief in a unifying higher power.
Set in a fantasy world and following events surrounding a mystical coming-of-age ritual, what’s most remarkable about Mark of the Goddess is that there’s no delay or acclimation period that usually comes with a story set in a fictional world.
When we meet Maya while she’s urgently preparing for the moon ceremony, we feel her fear and determination and sense the desperate need for her to make it to safety even before we truly know why she’s in danger.
This is a great book for readers who may be intimidated by overly complex fantasies or who don’t have the patience for longer adventures but still want the satisfaction of a hero’s journey.
With Mark of the Goddess, readers will immediately understand and connect with the story, feel invested in the high stakes, and root for the underdog protagonist. At times quite gruesome, the battles Maya must face are also inspiring; this poor outcast student learns she is the chosen one and discovers she is destined to be the hero that her long-suffering village needs.
Author A. L. Kaplan writes with such tremendously visual prose that while reading I could feel the sensation of the jaguar’s fur against my skin. I could imagine the village and jungle scenes in vibrant, saturated color. Kaplan’s writing style is a careful combination of clear and uncomplicated, never oversimplified, and lush with vivid description.
Mark of the Goddess has goddess-inspired shapeshifting, jaguars striding through villages, and fictional plants with masking properties. Even its appendix is the most helpful, inviting, easy-to-understand collection of information I’ve ever seen in a fantasy book. Because of this welcoming style of writing alone—though the storyline is highly engaging on its own—I would pick up another book by Kaplan in a heartbeat.
The title, Mark of the Goddess, is a reference to the way that Maya looks different from her peers. A golden eye-color and floret shape visible on her upper thigh are symbols of difference which she at first must hide for fear of her life. Maya’s family is at risk of death if the local priests discover her marks.
When the truth behind the village’s history unfolds, she discovers that these differences are her strengths and that they will be the reason she can channel power to overthrow the priests-slash-demons who have held her town and loved ones hostage for so long. No one else knows or believes her, but Maya has seen the truth and she’s brave enough to follow through.
Dedicated “to the countless people hiding who they truly are,” author A. L. Kaplan has written Mark of the Goddess as a fight against evil, in both the systemic sense and in a very literal “teenagers battling against demons” sense. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoyed The Hunger Games’ narrative of Katniss sacrificing herself for her sister no matter the risk to herself. Mark of the Goddess also features a second chance at friendship, unlikely allies coming together to save their town from further wreckage, and even manages to include the conflicting emotions present in the remnants of a romance.
The action is hardcore, fast-paced, thrilling stuff— yet very easy to follow. It’s worth warning readers that aside from the blood and gory descriptions of violence (including children undergoing water torture as an act of cleansing), Mark of the Goddess also places a strong focus in its storyline about religious persecution: Anyone who is outspoken against the one-god system that the priests have enforced or born with genetic markers that disprove their belief is at risk of being murdered in front of their community.
The teenagers overcome the distressing, traumatizing, unjust system they’ve been ruled by through facing head-on the immediate danger of an actual fight for their lives. In Maya’s case, she’s also fighting for the safety of her family, who are being held hostage and threatened with imminent death.
There’s an aspect of revenge in her drive to fight the system, because the enemy she faces now (evil priests keeping themselves in power by sacrificing humans to demons) is the reason her father is dead. Maya’s battle of good vs evil comes to a satisfying, heartwarming conclusion that provides her villagers and the reader with an overwhelming sense of hope.
Genre: Fantasy / Magic
Print Length: 42 pages
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