Who do you fear when you’re an immortal god?
Your father seems worthy of your fear. He is older, more powerful, perhaps wiser. His wrath can make your life a living hell, and you don’t want to be the one god in your family that strays far from the godly path you’re born to follow. Your life is eternal, and that is both blessing and curse. Fortunately, there are a handful of talented human beings in every generation, and a truly wonderful musician has arisen. Lysippus is his name, and you know for a fact that there will never be anyone else capable of dreaming up music like the ones he creates. It’s a shame that he chose to sleep with the wife of his best friend; his friend didn’t take kindly to that and murdered him. Can you in your godly wisdom forgive the murderer of your most cherished mortal? Not likely, but when your father pressures you into doing so, what is a goddess to do?
If you’re Artemis, the protagonist of K.J. Parker‘s newest novella from Subterranean Press, Downfall of the Gods, you can devise a nigh impossible task for Lord Archias, Lysippus’ murderer, to perform if he is to be saved from eternal damnation. In the usual comedic, but insightful, fashion that we have come to expect from Parker, things don’t go exactly as planned, and that’s wherein all the fun lies. The setting is vaguely reminiscent of a Greek or Roman one, as the name Artemis would suggest, and it’s perhaps the widest worldbuilding Parker has done in one of his stories in terms of the sheer size it plays with. It doesn’t dig too deep into what it introduces, this being a novella of course, but it felt fresh compared to his other stories, which tend to be much more compact in space. As always, it seems possible that the world it plays in is the same as of his other stories, but who can tell for certain? That’s one of the most interesting mysteries to me as a K.J. Parker reader, now that the secret identity has been revealed: What’s the deal with the world? Is it the same in every story? Or does every story have a different instance of a base world that it plays with? It truly asks for a cadre of meticulous and determined readers to answer.
Downfall of the Gods does not play much with non-linearity or misconceptions arising from POV characters, as some of Parker’s stories usually do. It’s a much more conventional storytelling, more reminiscent of A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong. It’s also as good as that award-winning story; in fact, I would say that Downfall of the Gods is one of the best novellas to come out of Parker’s fingers in some time, and that’s no small feat considering his output and its habitual high quality. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the novella evolves from what it seems like a fairly standard quest-type story to one that deals with more important issues. I won’t tell what those are because they run deep in the story, but it was one of those cases where once I identified the question it answers, I could see a strand connecting the beginning of the story to its end, a guiding line for the characters to cling onto, if they so choose.
I, for one, am happy that we seem to find ourselves in an abundance of novellas to choose from, and K.J. Parker seems to be taking the lead of capable authors using that space to tell those stories that most benefit from its limited space. Downfall of the Gods is absolutely worth your time.