It’s been about two years since I had the will to sit down and read a book for pleasure.  I’ve had to plow through hundreds of books in that time for my dissertation, and it nearly destroyed the love of reading for me.  I was out at Barnes & Noble looking for a copy of the new Ian McDonald novel Desolation Road, and while gathering that and a replacement copy of The Fortress of Solitudeby Jonathan Lethem (if you’ve never read him, shift your ass out to the bookstore and grab Motherless Brooklyn!)  I noticed a bit of cover art.

Normally, sci-fi cover art is highly formulaic and doesn’t often catch my attention.  Stephen Martiniere’s stuff is about the only look that will stop my eye (and is how I discovered McDonald.)  This was obviously Zeus, king of the Greek Pantheon, giving me the glowing-eyed “you will buy me!” look.  Not being manipulated by cover art at all…I immediately had a look.

Hence my purchase of James Lovegrove’s The Age of Zeus.  I’d never heard of Lovegrove, but I’m a sucker for Greek myth, especially when the back blurb suggests something close to a story idea I’d had.  I bought it yesterday.  I finished it a few minutes ago.  The bloody thing is 678 pages in paperback (well over the 100,000 word suggestion from the publishers I’ve talked to lately.)

Zeus and the Olympians show up out of nowhere ten years ago and with the aid of their panoply of monsters bring peace and justice (of a fashion) to the world.  they’ve decked the world powers in war and have settled down to rule the planet from Mount Olympus in Greece — aiding the Greek economy tremendously.  The UK (it’s a British-centered book, so I suspect the author is in the UK) and US areled by Pantheon sycopants, and only Japan is actively thumbing its nose at the gods.

A wealthy arms merchant has put together a bunch of high-tech combat armor and assembled a collection of people hurt by the Olympian “peace initiatives”, usually due to loss of family or friends.  The twelve heroes wear their TITAN suits and go off killing monsters in preparation for the big throw-down with the Gods.

The book is a fast read, the prose quick and enjoyable.  The characters are fleshed out well, the monsters are nicely brought up to modern sci-fi standards.  So well, that the monster hunts are in some ways better than the combat against the gods in the latter parts of the book.  I particularly like the Medusa — which don’t so much turn you to stone and flash-scorch you into pumice.  The Minotaur features prominently, and gives hints to the final explanation of the gods’ and their creatures’ true nature.  Even knowing where he was going with the story, I was enjoying well enough to slam through the book, but will admit that the final reveal was a bit long in coming and not really a surprise.

The book bothers to do something a lot of sci-fi using the Greek Pantheon does:  flesh out the gods.  Usually, they are glossed over, and only one or two is used to represent them — normally Dionysus or Aphrodite (the ones I find most uninteresting.)  Lovegrove gives us a good view of Zeus and Ares, Dionysus and Aphrodite once again are the main gods that the characters actually interact with, and the two that always fascinate me — Athena and Hephaestus — are given a glossing over, at best.  Lovegrove’s take on Hades — a lecherous necrophile looking to create his next object of affection, his Persephone — is creepy and funny at the same time.

Overall, it’s a good summer read for the beach or the plane.  I got through it in a few hours.