Eggs, Butter, Sugar and Disaster: A critical review.
Reviewing a book is easy. Reviewing a book a friend wrote is impossible. The problem being that the relationship with the friend comes first, meaning if the piece of trash makes you cry blood five words into the second paragraph you still have to try and brush it off with a 'meh, it's okay' lest you hurt the feelings of the one who spent months slaving away at it merely for you to summarise their hopes and dreams in a sentence roughly the length of a cough. But you can't just be positive either. If you try and end it with a 'Yeah, that was fantastic!' the friend's doubts will niggle at them. A lack of elaboration will only bring forth paranoia that you're hiding your true disgust. Perhaps you could go both ways and try a 'meh, it's not too bad actually' but this halfheartedness is cowardice at its most apathetic.
So I'm reviewing 'Eggs, Butter, Sugar and Disaster' by Alicia L Wright in the same way I'd want my book to be reviewed when read by an old friend from University who I haven't seen in years and who never got me a return Christmas present - with a long winded review and complete and total honesty that covers multiple areas. So here goes...
Let's start with a compliment. The story of Seralina and other deities is a must read for any kid. Sera is a strong, young woman who comes across as genuinely awkward, an instant improvement from the false awkward character you often seen in certain vampire mainstream novels, who would occasionally just trip over to remind everyone how weak she is. Among the gods, whose lives Sera is quickly thrust into, our protagonist is forced to adapt quickly into a world that quickly takes over her life with no chance of going back. With her friends and family only ever mentioned in retrospect, Sera must quickly take to her roles as a goddess, which includes part time jobs such as collecting the dead, creating familiars and deciding on just what type of goddess she plans to be.
Sera's narrative has a wonderful wit to it that doesn't cease throughout the book. Mixed in with characters who like to bicker between themselves, the novel gets a little chuckle out of me every few pages. Sera's journey into godhood takes her through the turns that most gods would take for granted, including obtaining god like tools (or kitchen utensils in Sera's case) and the construction of her Godly, inedible domain.
The book plays much on the deconstruction of godhood ,and not just in Sera setting up meetings at community centres in order to attract potential worshipers. The hierarchy of the gods is displayed with deities that don't even know they've lost their way in life and gods that have grown weary of their duties. A key theme of the book is helping ou the other gods, which Sera takes to nobly, assisting her new fellows with the daily problems in their immortal lives, often providing them simple solutions to bad habits and giving one or two of them a good telling off.
One of the interesting key features through the book is the lack of focus on antagonists. For the most part, Sera's journey is mainly exploration, discovering parts of her new life with a joyous abandon and having her expectations both realised and shattered in the same instant as she meets her fellow pantheon. The mythology and research behind the book is shown with some of the lesser known mythical gods but even when front runners like Loki and Osiris come up they're not entirely like you expect of them.
Antagonists do show up throughout the story and when they do they pitch Sera into battles of wit she's not ready for, showing the character's awkwardness and determination at the same time. The Domestic Goddess quickly came across as a favourite for me, if only for her own ineffectual determinism at bringing Sera down. Other villains don't show their true colours until the end but when they do it brings a satisfying climax to the story with an epic battle against mighty foes dispatched with forks and whisks. Indeed, Alicia's imagination brings us very interesting methods of taking out Frost giants...
However, the final battle itself is very much displaced by the penultimate battle. The Bored games (not a typo) are without a doubt the most exciting part of the book. This is definitely the scene where Alicia's true writing skills come to light. In just one chapter she creates a game which brings new light to the saying 'there are no rules'. With a multitude of gods with different agendas It's a shame this the game didn't end up being the final part of the book . The awesomeness in this mental battle of godly wits plays a lot of potential, but easily could have done more. In future books, I'd hope to see Alicia more willing to embrace her stronger qualities and scenes like this are what's she really good at.
Whilst the novel is a must read for any child, I'm not sure I could recommend it to too many adults. Most of the themes addressed in the book remain simple and are never delved into too deeply. With most scenes taken directly from the perspective of Sera herself, we are given an explorer's view of the Asgardian (plus other) realms. But because of the many realms she visits, w never stay in one place too long, and besides Valhalla and the bar of Sessrymnir the only other prime location is that of Earth itself. It would definitely get your child interested in mythology, but it's not a complex epic in in itself.
For her first book, Alicia has done an excellent job. If I were to complain about things (and you know I must), there would be three. The first is a mundane issue- literally. Throughout the book there are a few scenes which suffer from being absolutely pointless, and if they are necessary, they come across as boring. Whilst the chapter that dedicates itself to Sera wandering around realms dishing out leaflets gives us a view onto the other godly lands, the scene where Sera spends several pages showing two gods how to bake a cake (a completely normal cake with completely normal ingredients for completely normal purposes) left me a bit perplexed as to why the scene was kept in. These scenes are almost written as if they would be interesting for a god who knew nothing of human life. Instead Sera tells us how to bake a normal cake and nothing else. Several similar scenes remain skittered throughout the book, including the aforementioned handing out of leaflets and the making of a dress. In a world full of magical potential, where the very notion of butter of the gods should get one's mind spinning many a fantastical tale, I found myself dozing a little before I got back to the good bits. These sections lacked an overall point to them and often came across as padding, with no deeper meaning or lesson learned behind them.
Also, with the exceptions of the games and that little battle at the end, the story misses out on bringing forth any real excitement. There isn't a single tragic scene in the book and we don't get a single twang of tension until the games start. If I were to suggest anything it would be the willingness to be more dramatic. This is a tale of Gods after all.
Another fault that pops up is accidental author insertion. This is a personal worst fear in my own work and every so often it springs up in the novel and makes me shudder. Throughout the book we find Sera referring back to her old life and I don't presume to be the only one who would reckon that Sera's pursuit of graphic design and opinions of what's right when it comes to stealing would be suspiciously similar to Alicia's own. I could of course be completely wrong and perhaps the mere fact that I know the author could be contributing to my opinion here. But the problem is I could be wrong. Sera's monologues to the audience could be specifically created for the character and have nothing to do with Alicia's own life and it still wouldn't matter. The problem is that during these scenes it comes off as if the author is narrating directly through Sera. It jars the immersion, reminds us that we're reading.
My final gripe is the title itself. You may have noticed I've avoiding using the title as much as possible in my review, and that's because I can't stand it. It's kind of appropriate, I guess, especially considering the type of god Sera becomes, but it's not eye catching and has nothing to do with the first half of the story at all. It sounds like a humourous cookbook, which is again sort of appropriate but wouldn't have made me pick it up off the shelf.
Despite these room for improvement areas though, Sera's path to godhood is still an enjoyable read. In the end, besides hoping I've been able to create a balanced yet honest review, yet dreading the hostility that comes about by bringing up all the negative points at the end, I can recommend the purchase of this book. It's a first book, and it isn't a masterpiece, but it's an entertaining read and would definitely amuse the children as they follow Sera's path through Asgardian godhood.
You can buy the book on the following Amazon link: Eggs, Butter, Sugar and Disaster.