Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Review: Godkiller by Hannah Kaner

A quartet of protagonists thrown together by their separate needs to visit the site of a battle against the gods. 

Kissen, Elogast, and Inara are three very different characters with very different agendas and problems. 

Inara is a young woman who watches her family home get destroyed, the residents killed. Thrown on the road, this last daughter of a noble house winds up running into and traveling with two very different and dangerous people.

Elogast is a baker now, but once he was one of the foremost knights of the realm, and still is the king's friend. But the king is dying from the long delayed results of the last war. So, Elo marches off toward the ruins of Blenraden, the site of his greatest battle, a battle against gods, to find a cure for his king.

Kissen, the main lead of the novel, is an out and out Godskiller, the titular character, a Veiga. Kissen has had a very unpleasant relationship with gods for a long time. That metal leg she has? She lost her leg in being freed from being a fire god's sacrifice, long ago. So, she, too, in order to help Inara, is now headed toward the wrecked and ruined city of Blenraden. She is more than equipped and trained and ready to take on any gods. It's her duty and her pleasure. 

This of course is all  more than a bit of discomfort to Inara's secret companion, a small god named Skedi. 

Their stories are the matter of Hannah Kaner's fantasy novel, Godkiller.

Kissen as the titular character gets the most development and perspective of the character for the most part. Hers is the prologue that sets up her career, and while all the protagonists get rotating turns in POV, she is the one the author focuses on. She provides disability representation in having an artificial leg, although it does not hinder her too much in her job of killing gods, of which I will speak anon. 

Elogast, the knight turned baker turned knight, is our second MC. He is the sort that his sense of duty can overwhelm his good judgment to go where angels fear to tread. Some of his best stuff is when he actually talks about his craft of baking. He has been put into a difficult position with his friend the king, and I am glad the book does explain why he is so loyal, although the reader is left guessing (although I guessed correctly) where the bond really formed. And it is clear that, although he does not articulate it so, that he is definitely suffering from PTSD, and this is handled with nuance and good writing.

Inara and Skedi round out the pair. Inara is the orphaned protagonist thrown out on the road and into Kissen's care by the destruction of her home. The author slowly makes it clear, however, that she has something quite unusual about her, that she has a secret, a power, that she does not understand herself. The slow reveal of her power and how the characters react to it, is well done.

And then there is Skedi, and the heart of the worldbuilding and raison d'etre of the book. Skedi, you see, is a small god, in a world full of gods. Gods of things as small as one particular crossroad and as large as a god of an entire ocean.  Thousands of gods, and maybe more.  But as trade, commerce and the world has widened, the wild gods, gods grown out of genius loci, out of places, came into conflict with abstract and one might say foreign gods. The conflict caused a war, and devastating destruction, enough that the king declared that all gods were anathema and had to be destroyed, and of course worship and sacrifice to any god was forbidden. 

Kaner makes it clear that the Veiga, the Godkillers used to enforce this (and make good money) to do so, are really fighting an impossible battle here, but for the moment the Kingdom is brutally destroying shrines and rooting out outright believers in the gods that are now anathema. But given that all the gods in this world are born out of human need, belief, fear and desire, there really is no way to do this forever. And it is a strain on society, and helps show the rather harsh nature of this world. The king's efforts to suppress the gods, as well as the fact that the kingship fell on him rather unexpectedly makes it clear that the kingdom's future is very much in doubt as well. King Arren's head very uneasily holds the crown.

So back to Skedi. He is a small god of white lies, but he is strangely bound to Inara. Killing him, as is the natural thought of Kissen, and of Elogast, might just kill an innocent young woman in the bargain. Skedi does know he is on thin ice, but his nature and his impulses, both seen in his point of view, and seen from outside, are a fascinating character study. He also, interestingly, has a lack of self-awareness of where he came from and how he bonded to Inara in the first place. Gods in this word, Skedi included, are potent in their own sphere, but they are flawed and imperfect, too. 

So if it is not clear at this stage in the review, I will say it outright: yes, Godkiller is a grimdark fantasy novel. While there have been challenges to it, it remains a strong paradigm within the secondary world fantasy genre. Godkiller runs in the tradition of writers like Anna Stephens and Anna Smith Spark and fits in that sub-spectrum of the grimdark tradition. Strong female characters, very much concerned with their points of view, lives, and problems. This tradition of grimdark often avoids some of the worst excesses I've seen in grimdark, especially when it comes to the treatment of women, and is less interested in being "darker than dark". I appreciate that the novel hews in that direction. If grimdark is the base template, at least it is a somewhat more inclusive template.

The city of Blenraden, wrecked and ruined by the Gods Wars, is the highlight and centerpiece of the book. It's a fascinating and well done ruined city as important setting, a dangerous place where there are remnant gods, guards on the make, and other dangers around every corner. It's evocatively drawn as a locale for the quartet to finally reach.

There is some roughness in the writing, particularly in the pacing. The first three quarters of the book work rather well, the plot and characters move along decently, if sometimes in a bit of a gear shift issue. But the last portion of the book, and the final revelations and twists all come suddenly, without warning, and the finale after that feels rushed and hurried and perhaps a bit of left field given what we have seen, and known, about the characters. And it feels a little forced of a joining to connect this with all of the protagonists. Dropping more breadcrumbs earlier to reinforce and buttress this would have been extremely welcome and would have done the book a much better service. As it is, it feels like a shocking reveal, and not one that is really supported. 

The queer representation in the book, and there definitely is some to be had, feels a bit thinly signaled rather than a heartfelt inclusion. As mentioned above, however, disability representation definitely is a highlight of this book. 

So while this is the first book in a series, and even given the strengths of the book, I am not entirely certain I am sold on this world enough to continue with the series. I am frustratingly on the fence about whether, especially given the out of left field final part, that I want to continue in this series or not



  • Interesting worldbuilding
  • Strong quartet of POV characters 

Reference: Hannah Kaner, Godkiller, [Harper Voyager, 2023]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.